With its new advertising campaign, TD Bank is playing on the industry stereotype of big institutions that are cold and impersonal.
Though the subject matter is familiar-TD has long emphasized its friendly service and unusual extras like free coin counting-the campaign, dubbed "Bank Human, Again," marks a major departure from its past efforts.
Talk show hosts Regis Philbin and Kelly Ripa and their lighthearted banter are gone. TD is going sans celebrities for the first time.
Vinoo Vijay, TD's chief marketing officer, says the intent is to shift the focus to customers and employees instead. "We realized they are the celebrities that we wanted to highlight," he says.
The campaign includes six 30-second television spots that show customers having frustrating experiences at a cavernous, empty bank branch.
In a spot called "Rope Lines," a man sees a long maze that is devoid of any other customers and attempts to take a shortcut to the front. A disembodied voice calls out, "Please walk the line, Stanley, in an orderly fashion."
After finishing the zigzag route, he says, "I need a deposit slip." The robotic female voice replies, "Deposit slips are located at the entrance of the bank."
An announcer then says, "It's time to bank human again. That's why, at TD Bank, we're open longer than any other bank and you'll never see a rope line."
In other spots, the voice is equally unhelpful to customers in different situations: a man struggles with a pen too tightly chained to the desk, a small business owner tries to make a deposit after work just as the bank is closing, and a mother brings her young daughter to cash in the big jar of coins she saved up.
The "Bank Human, Again" theme is meant to underscore how TD offers a better customer experience, which includes unchained pens, extended hours and free customer coin counting.
Vijay credits Philbin and Ripa with doing an "amazing job" creating awareness for TD over the past six years as it expanded into new markets. "They really put us on the map as America's most convenient bank."
He says TD's shift is unrelated to Philbin retiring from "Live with Regis and Kelly" in 2011.
The decision came about after talking with customers to research a theme for the campaign. TD found their enthusiasm striking and wanted to showcase it. "We have customers who are wowed by us," Vijay says.
In addition to television, the campaign has print and digital components. The print ads, some of which feature TD employees, target New York, Philadelphia and Boston. Banner ads and other digital elements help drive traffic to a custom microsite, BankHumanAgain.com, which features videos of real customers talking about why they like TD. The videos also can be seen playing in rotation on screens inside TD branches.
Robert Passikoff, the president of Brand Keys in New York, is skeptical about whether the new ads will be as effective as the Philbin and Ripa campaign.
Though very creative, they are not very differentiating, he says. "I mean, you want a free pen, you can go to Chase, too. The era of rope lines has really kind of passed. I don't really worry about my bank being open or not; they're not doing 10-to-3 the way they used to in the mid '50s."
But Vijay says the campaign already is resonating, as illustrated by a customer who switched to TD only days after the January launch. "He went up to the teller and said, 'Are you human?' And our teller said, 'Yes, I see you've seen our commercials.' He said, 'Yes, I love it and I want a human bank.' So we're pretty thrilled."