Leave It to the Pro to Critique This Capital One Commercial

Reader Decries Spot as Out of Touch, but Take a Close Look at What It's Advertising

By Published on .

What, you think we're in this alone?

Ha ha ha ha. No! AdReview has a vast network of spies, moles, deputies, snitches, bird dogs and just plain upright citizens vigilantly and heroically doing what the AdReview staff has no time for (due to the onerous burden of writing 600 words once a week).

Namely: watching TV.

We here at headquarters are far too preoccupied finding fault with media to actually consume it, and so we depend heavily on you, the little people. For example, here's the text of an e-mail we received last week:

If you're looking for a poster child of what a bank should NOT do during this awful recession, look no further than what DDB Chicago is doing for Capital One Bank. Talk about out of touch. Do they think their audience is 12 years old? You should know, this is not a rough cut. This is what's airing right now. A Fortune 200 company. Simply amazing, in the worst kind of way. Have a look.

Okay, first of all, just for future reference, next time just send along the ad and a brief heads-up. Leave the opinionating to the trained professionals. God bless you all, but this is complicated work. Let's demonstrate:

The spot, from DDB, Chicago, is about raking in awards points. The analogy is video games.

"Video games aren't the only place you rack up points," says the cheerful voice-over. Then, atop MIDI tones ringing in the background, we see an animated superhero performing acrobatics across actual Capital One banking venues. In the corner of the screen, the point tally grows and grows. "With Capital One Rewards Checking, you earn points for everyday banking." Meanwhile, other gaming characters are composited over live action -- an alien here, a football player there. And, oh, look, it's a giant, green Transformer-like crustacean! "Just sign, swipe or click to start racking up your rewards points today!"

Hmm. Spending a fun, fun game? No wonder -- in the midst of global financial meltdown brought on by greed and irresponsibility -- AdReview's junior journalist found this spot so repulsively out of touch. He/she was incredulous that Capital One could be so unchastened by crisis as to encourage wanton spending. After all, for every dollar or two or so of rewards value on credit purchases, there's $100 to pay the bank, often with accruing interest charges that are just this side of loansharking.

But here's the thing: This isn't a credit-card ad.

Capital One -- having had its business model obliterated by the credit crunch and resultant credit-card legislation that prohibits most of the rating practices Capital One invented to monetize increased risk -- is now betting huge on regular retail banking. This rewards come-on isn't for credit purchases; it's for spending your own money, from your own checking account.

Now, you can argue that encouraging profligacy during a recession is itself irresponsible. But you can also argue the opposite; by definition, a recession reflects insufficient spending, no? And, sure, the video-game metaphor targets young people, but there's no Joe Camel complaint to be made here. Checking accounts don't kill you.

If anything is amazing, it's that in a 0.5% discount-rate market, CapitalOne can afford to offer free checking and a rewards kickback. Clearly this offer is a loss leader to lure customers into its recently acquired branches and build its core deposits. If you're looking to be aggrieved about this approach, what you -- the ad-criticism dilettante -- should be asking is:

When they rescind the free checking and start piling on the fees, what cute ad analogy will DDB announce it with then?

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