Great ad campaigns in marketing history: ‘Live Richly’ from Citi

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‘Oh, brilliant advertising, how I miss you so’ is an inspirational series of posts on LinkedIn, curated by Gregg Benedikt, a Creative Director/Copywriter. Over there, I stumbled upon a hoarding as part of a famous campaign from Citibank, ‘Live Richly’, created in the early 2000s. It triggered a thought to attempt a series of posts on great campaigns from the past (aside from my weekly compilations) – gleaned from my memories and reading up on the web. So, here’s a background to the great ‘Live Richly’ campaign from Citi and why I love it.

The dot-com boom and insight

Retail bank is a category where genuine product differentiation is hard to come by. In the late 1990s, Citibank was undifferentiated from other big-name brands in the sector. In banking any brand with a strong heritage has a good chance of being seen as solid and trusted. It was aiming to be a ‘financial supermarket’ providing all the financial needs in personal banking. It needed a differentiated positioning or stance in a cluttered market.

It was the a time when the dot-com boom (or ‘bubble’ as it turned out to be) was in full swing in the US. Internet-based companies were celebrated by the stock markets and trade magazines. In 1999, popular magazines such as Time and Newsweek ran cover stories glorifying such businesses and creating FOMO. They even suggested such businesses offered a ‘get rich quick’ formula. The San Francisco magazine’s cover story in November 1999 was “Made Your Million Yet?”.

Consumer research showed that there were a substantial number of banking customers who were not so convinced about the hoopla and saw it as a flash-in-the-pan. They said becoming millionaires or ‘money’ isn’t their end goal – it was only a tool to ‘fund parts of their lives that made them happy’. The terrorist attacks of 9/11 in 2001 pushed even more Americans to re-consider their priorities and fuelled the ‘there are more important things than just money’ mindset.

Two words that said a lot

The celebrated ad agency, Fallon created a campaign idea which sat extremely well with this mindset and context. The tagline, ‘Live Richly‘ was pithy but deep, superbly captured the prevailing sentiment, was relevant to the category and brand.

A series of billboards went beyond clever wordplay and struck an emotional chord. Since New York was the ‘home’ of Wall Street, creating a highly visible campaign in that city, using many outdoor media – taxi signs, kiosk, billboards and more helped in creating awareness. They soon became the talking point in mainstream media – proving that television need not always be the first choice to create awareness and buzz.

The copywriting was top notch, going beyond puns or clever word play and striking an emotional chord with the audience. The underlying theme of having a holistic, balanced perspective towards money (and not just get rich, splurge or chase materialistic things) was expressed in a myriad ways in a tone & manner which was affable and brought a smile.

If you gave up your morning coffee for a year, you could make an extra mortgage payment. But man, you’d be grumpy.

Agency: Fallon

Lines like ‘The best table in the city is the one with your family around it‘ and ‘The best debt is one of gratitude‘ presented a contrary, yet relevant view to a society which paid a premium on fancy restaurant bookings and other materialistic pursuits.

The campaign ran for several years and added a ‘human’ angle to the brand. In a category known for staid, even stand-offish behaviour especially from ‘big banks’ this gave a differentiated positioning to Citi. It was also unconventional for a bank brand to run ads with headlines like:

Another hallmark of the approach was the unconventional use of media. While TV was used, the outdoor-led approach played a critical part in the campaign’s success. It was a magical coming together of blog strategy, consumer insight, sharp understanding of the cultural context and creativity which cut through clutter and changed perceptions about the brand. The campaign went on to win big at the Effies and positively impacted the business for the brand by increasing traffic to the branch, new account openings and an increase in home equity loan applications.

Today, in 2022, not just the US but the world has endured an unprecedented chain of events over the last couple years. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced us to alter our lifestyles, re-think our priorities and seek a balance between work & personal life all over again. Wonder if ‘Live Richly’ is a lot more relevant today than it was two decades ago.

Would love to hear your views – do share them in the comments below.

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