Everyone, at one time or another, has had a friend who is clueless about managing money. He spends his cash on stuff he doesn't need, signs up for credit cards that he quickly maxes out, and doesn't pay his bills on time.

Now "that guy" is the inspiration for Fifth Third Bank's new marketing campaign aimed at high school and college students. The series of "Don't be that guy" ads - including one hilarious spoof of a ubiquitous infomercial - uses a hearty dose of humor to preach the importance of saving and the dangers of impulse buying.

Larry Magnesen, Fifth Third's chief marketing officer, said it makes sense to target young adults because the financial crisis appears to have heightened their awareness of money matters.

"Certainly they read the headlines," he says. "Money is very top of mind for them."

Still, this is a demographic that also likes a good laugh. The ads are primarily airing on Fifth Third's Web site - they will make their television debut in mid-September - and Magnesen says that if the bank hopes to attract students to its site, then the ads better be funny. "The [sites] that we're competing with for their attention are [non-financial sites] that are a lot more fun and memorable, like YouTube videos. If that's the sort of media that they're consuming, then it makes a lot more sense to produce something that's entertaining but has a message embedded in it."

John Rankins, head of Insight Advertising Agency in Bowling Green, Ohio, said the ads strike the right tone between irreverence and education. "There's a resurgence in humor advertising. We're in a bad economy right now and people need something to brighten their day, so humor has rebounded," he says. "Also, kids today are very alert as to the uncertainty of a job being there for them after they graduate. They're becoming more cognizant of their spending patterns."

The ads, created by the Olson agency in Minneapolis, feature three male college roommates. The seemingly responsible one, Jim, is clean cut and preppy. Another roommate, Kyle, is "that guy," the disheveled one who is perpetually short of money. The third, Fulton, plays the role of the house nerd.

Of the five ads, the spot that has received the most attention on the Web is the one titled, "In the dark." It begins with Kyle and Fulton watching TV, while each wearing a Snuggie - a blanket with sleeves that is hawked relentlessly through a painfully un-hip infomercial.

Jim walks in and asks why it's so cold in the house. Kyle explains: "We don't really need to heat all of this space, you know. Am I over there? No. Am I over there? No, Jim, I'm right here. We're paying a ton of money every month to heat a lot of space that we don't even use."

Jim's response: "So what you're telling me is that you spent all of our utility money on backwards bathrobes."

The ad closes with the three men watching TV, wearing Snuggies, when the power goes out. Jim says to Kyle: "Didn't pay the electric bill, either, huh?" The ad closes with the Fifth Third logo and the reminder to "always have an emergency savings fund."

Fifth Third has seen a big spike in new accounts from students, which Magnesen attributes largely to a financial outreach program it began running on campuses earlier this year. Through the first six months of the year, accounts opened by students were up 27 percent from the same period in 2008.

The bank is hoping for a surge of activity in the fall, when college students tend to open new accounts. Since the ads started running on www.53.com/students in June, clicks on the sub-site are up 30 percent over last year. The ads are also being run on sites such as Hulu and Facebook, and Magnesen says that the click-through rate on Facebook is four-times higher than other ads on the site.

"Humor is used as an attention getting device," Magnesen says. "It's not so zany, over-the-top that the whole message gets lost. If it's too crazy, people will ultimately forget the message."

Subscribe Now

Access to authoritative analysis and perspective and our data-driven report series.

14-Day Free Trial

No credit card required. Complete access to articles, breaking news and industry data.