Starling Bank On The Science Of Marketing And The Art Of Conversation

02 Feb, 2024

In her latest column for MAD//Insight, Starling Bank's Brand and Marketing Director, Rachel Kerrone, asks whether marketers' desires to measure trust, salience and awareness have come at the expense of the big and bold creative ads that get people talking? 

“Have you seen that new TV ad?’’ is a question you don’t hear as much outside of marketing circles these days - the annual onslaught of festive ads aside. It’s no surprise; the shift to streaming platforms and on-demand services means the hero slots don’t gain the visibility they once did, and with that, the talkability. 

More and more marketers are leaning into the science of the practice as a result. But have our desires to measure trust, salience and awareness, all while balancing long-term brand building and performance activity, come at the expense of the big and bold creative ads that get people talking? 

In the banking sector, I think so. Too often the sector is talked about for all the wrong reasons, and the human side of money has become obscured by the sector’s focus on interest rates, branches, launching fee-free travel cards that banks frankly should have rolled out years ago... It’s all become so... transactional.

At Starling Bank, as we take on the traditional high street banks, and utilise ATL channels and the ‘media high street’ to showcase our brand in the absence of physical branches, we questioned whether our ad creative should be behaving traditionally too. That process didn’t take very long; I’ll let you guess what the unanimous answer was.

So when we started work on our new brand platform, to herald a year of ambitious growth for Starling after years of building awareness and trust to an all-time high, we took a momentary step back from the science of marketing. We focused on the art of creating talkability.

The Dessert is one of three new Starling Bank adverts that are fun, creative, and have that talkability factor. (See bottom of the article to links to The Dessert and Starling's other two new ads)

We wanted to create a platform that got people talking - talking about their own unique approach to money management, how they share money, and what their worries and goals are. We wanted to be setting the national conversation about money, to break the taboo that money is a private thing. And of course, we wanted our ads themselves, and our brand, to be talked about - beyond creative circles.

Cue creative briefs, lots of brainstorms and audience panels. What we found about ideas with talkability is that their effectiveness in the wild can be predicted fairly easily during the creative process itself. Everyone involved in the planning process brought their own money stories to the table. More often than not, these stories got conversation going about how relatable they were, or how different they were to how others managed their money. Talkability in the planning room became our litmus test. 

Some couples used their joint accounts as a way to communicate with one another; some people’s spending insights were constantly in a tailspin as they helped their grandparents with the weekly shop; many parents were simultaneously proud and slightly scared of how good their kids were at negotiating pocket money. The list goes on.

The platform we landed on is ‘The Bank Built for You’. Its premise is that there’s a story behind every single pound that’s earned, shared, spent and saved, and we’re the bank that was built for each of those stories, helping real people customise their banking experience to suit their needs.

We’ve got three different ads that explore three different life stages, from a young woman whose embarrassing parents fuel her desperation to meet her ‘Move out’ saving goal, to an entrepreneurial girl going the extra mile when washing her mum’s car in aid of extra pocket money. It’s testament to our focus on talkability that everyone’s favourite ad is different, with many people sharing how they relate to the ads on social media and customer service channels.

Now I’m not saying we’ve focused on the creativity of marketing at the expense of its science. People relate to human-centred messaging in a way that allows the creative to cascade naturally to other channels in the marketing mix - that’s certainly the case for this campaign. While talkability is hard to measure, we’ve seen an uplift in our performance and brand building channels in a way that we can measure. 

So whether you’re in the financial services sector or not, my learning here is not to forget the real people at the heart of your product, and don’t miss out on the fun that’s to be had when sharing stories and experiences. Brands wanting to disrupt a sector while aiming to emulate the market share of its biggest players need not emulate traditional ad creative. You can break into the mainstream by sparking a little more conversation. 

Here are Starling Banks three fun new adverts!

The Dessert WATCH HERE

Rinsed WATCH HERE

Night Owls WATCH HERE

Rachel will be writing a regular column for MAD//Insight throughout the year.

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