The Secret Behind TD Bank's Latest Viral Video Coup

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Toronto-Dominion Bank has proven, once again, that it has a magic touch for making online videos.

In less than six months it has crafted two video-driven campaigns that have gone viral. The first video has amassed more than 18 million views since it was posted in July. The second has surpassed five million views since appearing Nov. 24. Both portray consumers' emotional reactions to unexpected — but pleasant — surprises funded by the bank.

TD's success comes as banks are struggling to find their voices — and consumers' eyeballs — through digital channels at a time when their branch transactions continue to decline.

TD's newest video campaign, which runs for slightly more than four minutes, offers stories from a project in which the bank gave 24 U.S. and Canadian customers $30,000 each to carry out an idea for helping others. The ideas ranged from building a wheelchair ramp at the home of a neighbor who'd been housebound for four years to hosting a gala for foster children. The campaign, complete with its own landing page and hashtag (#MakeTodayMatter), required that the altruistic acts had to be finishable within 24 hours.

The campaign underscores a digital marketing trend that crosses industries: featuring customers and employees in promotions rather than actors, to create more genuine content that draws viewers who are prone to share them on social media.

AJ Jaggi, a so-called business architect at viral marketing specialist firm ViralGains, said video that captures authentic emotions performs well for brands such as American Greeting, JetBlue and TD.

"Content like this resonates with [people] rather than, 'Here are interest rates or deposit fees,'" Jaggi said. "It pulls on the heartstrings."

And such messages are designed to reach digital audiences, especially millennials.

TD sought several tangible and intangible benefits from its investments, including: reaching an audience of more than 10 million (which it believes it will achieve), making employees and customers feel good about the brand and inspiring people to continue their community outreach.

"We are all human. We start from that place," said Vinoo Vijay, the chief marketing officer at TD."We are trying to do things we are proud of and that appeal to a sense of purpose."

Credibly embracing those values will result in better business performance ultimately, Vijay said.

"These things only work if they come from a place of truth," Vijay said. "You can't fake it."

TD's digital work builds off a practice it has long upheld: participating in community events. Its employees in the U.S. participate in 3,100 community events per year.

Many banks have long conducted community campaigns. Some financial institutions will, say, donate to the charity of a customer's choice. However, high-quality digital productions are fewer and farther between, but they do exist. Regions Financial, for example, recently produced a video that showcases some of the community work the bank did with first-time homebuyers. And Eastern Bank in Boston made an emotional video about helping a restaurateur make over her business after the death of her husband.

More banks are expected to use similar techniques. ViralGains said it has noticed a rise in the number of conversations about digital advertisements it is having with financial services companies — which already spend more than other industries — compared with even a year ago.

As banks improve their storytelling to better suit digital audiences, they must also be careful: social media initiatives with good intent can go very badly. An ill-timed twitter Q&A by JPMorgan Chase in November 2013 drew a stream of snarky tweets about its pending $13 billion mortgage settlement and suspected involvement in foreign exchange and Libor manipulation cases.

Even in the case of TD's #MakeTodayMatter, there were some sarcastic comments made online. But that appeared more the exception than the rule in a campaign that most would view as a smashing success.

TD's work highlights a theme marketers have long emphasized: in social media, it's not about you. In fact, the campaign disrupts traditional marketing in the way the bank buries its brand in the video.

"They are not putting themselves front and center," said Dan Latimore, senior vice present within the banking group at Celent. "They are not even touting what they can do for customers. Rather, they are pitching themselves as enablers of other people's dreams and desire to do good."

Latimore believes other banks should think about spending marketing dollars on projects like TD's #MakeTodayMatter.

Of course, publishing strong videos does not guarantee that consumers will run to do business with the company without considering its products and services.

Steve Williams, who leads the strategic planning and facilitation practice at Cornerstone Advisors, praises the way TD understated its brand and focused on community, but it points out this is but one part of a larger business story. People "won't change their mobile apps because of this ad," said Williams.

Even so, such content can help boost a brand's image, especially when targeted at niche audiences. Think "bring-your-dog-to-get-photos-with-Santa day" at the nearby branch at the end of the year (which, yes, TD has done).

"The dialog is more local," said Vijay.

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