UBank CMO stands by campaign - 'We need it to be disruptive'

Pippa Chambers
By Pippa Chambers | 25 October 2016
Jo Kelly

UBank has no intention of pulling a controversial campaign that uses terminally ill patients to reflect on what's important in life, defending its use of an emotional subject matter to provoke an important discussion. 

The TV spot, described as "insensitive", "exploitative" and "shameless", challenges Aussies to reconsider putting all their money into a home they can’t afford, redefining the ‘Australian Dream’.

Launched last week, the advert left one viewer who has a terminally ill father furious and “in a flood of tears”. Another said they felt “physically ill” while watching it, while others said they would lodge tribunal complaints and switch banks.

Facebook user Daniel Lemura commented: “UBank I have just seen your ad sitting in my lounge room with my three-week-old baby daughter and my father who has stage four inoperable pancreatic cancer. No doctor can help him and he is running out of time. My dad and I just looked at each other and my dad broke down.

While another posted: “What you have done has made me physically sick. Words cannot describe how disgusted I am in your absolutely shameless marketing campaign. You and your advertising team should completely ashamed of what you have done. Taking advantage of terminally ill patients to sell your product is disgusting.”

'We wanted disruption'

UBank chief marketing officer Jo Kelly tells AdNews it didn't intend to “upset or shock” people, but needed creative that was “disruptive” to provoke thought and discussion about the 'Australian dream'.

“We knew that we would polarise people, but it wasn't our intention to offend or upset people with a terminal illness,” Kelly says. “We always knew it was going to evoke a strong reaction. We wanted it and needed it to be disruptive and for it to create a provocative discussion.”

Kelly says the bank worked closely and sensitively with the six people in the ads as well as Palliative Care Australia.

UBank's campaign comes at a time when public trust in financial services is at an all time low. Earlier this month at a Senate hearing, banking bosses, including Andrew Thorburn of Ubank parent NAB, apologised for recent financial scandals and a growing case file of poor customer service.

The issue came to a head when a Four Corners report exposed CommInsure staff as being insensitive and had rejected legitimate insurance claims from terminally ill customers. Other banks have been found to push financial products onto customers who didn't need them, casting a shadow over financial planning ethics.

Challenging customers

Kelly says that while all marketing campaigns have to drive results for the bank, the aim of this campaign is to challenge customers to think more carefully about their investment choices.

“Of course we have targets and we aren’t shying away from that, but we'd prefer to have more customers with smaller mortgages than fewer customers with larger mortgages,” she says.

While the ad has polarised public opinion, internally it has driven some UBank staff to make changes to their lives.

“It's not only been confronting to the public, but it's also been confronting for us too,” Kelly says.

The people in the ads also spoke about why they shared their stories (below).

Mark Green - 'It's bold and important'

The Monkeys CEO and co-founder Mark Green, whose agency created the ad, says UBank continues to take brave steps that set it apart from other banks.

“Importantly, it’s bold for an important purpose – to drive people to think differently about the Australian dream,” Green says.

“Every time we reviewed it with someone new as we were progressing the work, it would make people think about their own needs and wants. And, the majority understood our true intent to start a different conversation about borrowing less and living more.

“It’s our hope that people reflect on that intent and think about changes in their own lives, and honour and thank the individuals in the film who shared their stories.”

UBank's conversation with its creative agency has already turned to its next campaign. “Yes we are starting to talk about the next step as once you have the conversation going its important continue, but it will be challenging ad we accept that,” Kelly says.

Kelly said after joint conversations with The Monkeys the brand chose one of three ideas the agency had put forward, however after a week of reflection she went back to the agency, highlighting a stronger need to disrupt.

“We have no intention at all of withdrawing the campaign. We are completely committed to it,” she adds.

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Positive sentiment prevails

Despite some backlash Ubank has analysed the sentiment on the conversation and says to date, more than 70% of sentiment is positive or neutral.

Facebook user Hanna Whittam says: “Guys I just wanted to say your marketing and creative team did a great job on this ad. It was very powerful and gave me goosebumps... fantastic angle.”

Another, Healthy Natty, added: “UBank - I was very ill when I was younger (4 years bed bound) and I recovered and sometimes forget what's important in life. This ad made me cry the first time I saw it. Bravo to your entire marketing team.”

Dean Herman also commented: “I thought this was a truly insightful piece from brave people with unique perspective. When we commit to buy things we pay with more than cash, we pay with time with our families, friends and our well being. We are not taught this and its causes us harm and unhappiness. These are people who can reflect on the lives they've lived and life they have left and clearly value what is important to them and its not money. Its an important message and its made me look at choices I'm about to make differently.”


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