Ally Bank goes for viral marketing with 'Banksgiving' campaign

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The online- and mobile-only Ally Bank is taking a novel approach in a new marketing campaign this season, touting "Banksgiving," in which it gives prizes out to customers in the days leading up to Thanksgiving, ranging from $25 gift cards to $55,000 for a woman running a charity.

The campaign, which is primarily driven by social media, came from one of three new ad agencies the bank is using, Anomaly in New York, according to Andrea Brimmer, Ally’s chief marketing officer. The agency was preparing to handle the account and noticed a social media post from a customer.

The post recounted a conversation in which an Ally representative asked the customer, “Is there anything else I can do for you today?” and the customer replied, “A million dollars would be nice.” The Ally representative responded, “I wish I could give you a million dollars and give all our customers a million dollars because we love you all so much.”

“The agency noticed we have a different culture at Ally — this idea of having a human-centric brand, the way we go to market,” Brimmer said. “They were intrigued about how we empower our call center reps to do the right thing by customers. They came back to us with this idea around capitalizing on what was already happening within our culture within Ally and sharing that out for this Thanksgiving holiday, giving our customers a big thank-you for all they do for us throughout the year.”

The new promotion illustrates how banks are going beyond traditional advertising to try and find something that customers will share on their own.

Ally Bank has done giveaways before. For instance, when it reached the 1-million-customers milestone, the bank made a video with various employees, including Ally President Diane Morais and call center representatives, thanking customers. It gave out 2,300 gift cards, representing the number of days it took to reach the million mark.

For this project, the bank's marketing team listened to calls for a week, hearing customers’ stories about what they were going through and trying to do. Marketing selected some of the larger prizes, such as a woman who received $55,000 to continue her charitable work, and another who was given airplane tickets to visit her partner in the Netherlands.

Call center reps were given discretion to select customers for smaller prizes, such as $1,000 to a man who wanted camping equipment and a smaller amount to an elderly customer who needed her leaves raked. The bank called the selected customers back and asked them if it was OK if it recontacted them for a marketing promotion.

“They didn’t have any idea why we would be recontacting them and we didn’t tell them we were going to be surprising them with a gift, so their reactions were very genuine,” Brimmer said.

The agency shot a three-minute video of a few of the customers receiving their prizes.

Ally is not planning to do traditional advertising related to this promotion, relying instead on social media to spread the word. The bank pushed the video out to some of its influencers, including Jewel and Big & Rich, who are pushing it out to their followers. It’s also sending snippets of the video by email, and on Tuesday it will send an email to more customers sharing a link to the video and Starbucks gift cards.

“We’re hoping people will share the post, that it will get some viral activity and grow,” Brimmer said. “The reason we did it really wasn’t to be promotional but because we wanted to do something nice for customers, as part of our brand, our spirit and who we are.”

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