LOS ANGELES (AdAge.com) -- At a time when consumers are arguably paying closer attention to their credit scores, Experian Consumer Direct, the consumer-product division of one of the nation's largest credit bureaus, has been orchestrating a marketing strategy under the watch of Senior VP-CMO Chris Moloney that imparts accessibility and clarity to something formerly left to financial advisers to understand.
And for this direct marketer, the cornerstone of the campaign is a decidedly branding-based tool: the jingle.
In fall 2007, Experian and its agency The Martin Agency introduced a campaign for the Experian product freecreditreport.com, a division of the company's ConsumerInfo.com group. It featured a namesake band "led" by actor and singer Eric Violette, who portrayed a hapless 20-something forced to take menial jobs and living with his in-laws due to his poor credit. The spots were catchy and ubiquitous to late-night cable viewers -- in 2009 alone, freecreditreport.com spent $60.8 million on cable TV, according to Kantar Media, geared primarily toward younger males.
That youth-targeted strategy ended up having an unexpected appeal among boomers and retirees, rather than young professionals with little to no credit history. Additionally, the Federal Trade Commission recently established a new mandate requiring all companies offering free credit reports tied to a commercial offer to refer to the government's FTC.gov site as the only place to find a free authorized credit report.
That's why Mr. Moloney prioritized a new product offering, freecreditscore.com, when he joined the company in February 2010 after a four-year stint as CMO of Scotttrade. Freecreditscore.com is designed to give more immediate, relevant credit information to younger consumers, who told Experian through research that they didn't need all the detailed information of a credit report, just a quick and easy score to monitor for job interviews and housing applications. The switch to freecreditscore.com also takes Experian's commitment to jingles to the next level. This past weekend, freecreditscore.com was a presenting sponsor of MTV's Video Music Awards in Los Angeles, where the new freecreditscore.com band (Detroit's The Victorious Secrets) debuted its first jingle during commercial breaks and also appeared during pre-show coverage.
The VMAs marked the latest milestone in an entertainment event-based strategy Mr. Moloney has overseen in recent months, having also bought major time during Fox's Major League Baseball All-Star Game in July to promote the freecreditscore.com band contest ultimately won by the Victorious Secrets. Such major prime-time events aren't exactly the same place you'd find ads for other direct marketers like ShamWow or Snuggie, which is exactly the dichotomy Mr. Moloney is looking to straddle in his new role.
"Even though I'm a direct marketer, I'm still jazzed about branding," Mr. Moloney said.
Mr. Moloney reports to Experian Consumer Direct President Mike Dean, and also oversees the marketing strategies for ProtectMyID.com and Experian.com, the company's other consumer-facing sites.
Ad Age: Has the recession helped or hindered your business as many consumers' credit scores have taken a hit by the recent bank-lending crisis?
Mr. Moloney: Our business has been very robust in terms of people wanting to understand their credit report and all this information being published by their financial institution. The last few years have been challenging for some people, but the message about [how] a better score can get you a better rate and help you get the things you want like a mortgage has really resonated with today's audience. Our product has been able to help people save a ton of money -- they have a window into when their loan is accepted or denied and what that decision was made on. [A] do-it-yourself mentality has really exploded over the years, and I believe we're a part of that revolution as far as DIY finances.
Ad Age: This April, you phased out Experian's popular freecreditreport.com ads and their house band to focus on a new product, freecreditscore.com. What prompted that change?
Mr. Moloney: We had a new brand that needed a new band. Our old band resonated with all ages; everybody at some point had been hindered by not having the credit they wished they had.
The kids singing the songs were having an impact on their parents. A lot of people knew of us because there were millions of teens who had become fans of the music. We performed fantastically among the boomer audience, and in fact 30- to 60-year-olds make up our largest consumer base.
[But] there were a lot of customers who were not fans of the band, who found them too kitschy or too light-hearted or not appealing because they saw them on TV. Those people who were detractors had joined the conversation. We engaged people to see the new band.
Ad Age: Will the new campaign be more inclusive of your core base of boomers?
Mr. Moloney: The band now is not singing about themselves, they're singing about other scenarios. They used to sing about how they couldn't get this car, or my credit score was low, I had to sleep in my parents' basement. It's not about the band's age or the band's challenges. We will have boomers in our ads, some Gen Xers and Gen Yers and maybe even some older folks. We have a desire to go broader with our message. [For the VMAs], MTV has been supportive of the fact that we're trying to give new brands some awareness. We want to continue to educate people on credit scores through educational videos, and I expect the band will play a role in that social-media education. We kind of stumbled into this social-media aspect when we saw how many people liked the old band and didn't like the old band.
Ad Age: The previous campaign caught flak -- and a 2005 lawsuit by the Federal Trade Commission -- for not being transparent enough about just how "free" the credit reports are. How did the recent FTC mandate to refer consumers to FTC.gov's credit reports affect your strategy?
Mr. Moloney: To be compliant with the new FTC mandates, freecreditreport.com now offers consumers the choice of a free report delivered within two days without enrollment in the credit-monitoring product Triple Advantage, or instant delivery of their credit report along with enrollment in Triple Advantage. In parallel, Experian has shifted its marketing strategy to focus on freecreditscore.com, which is not subject to the same restrictions by the FTC.
We're very clear in our advertising that the ongoing management of your financial situation is important.
Ad Age: You recently shifted some of your dedicated digital marketing dollars into broadcast prime time. How will you measure effectiveness?
Mr. Moloney: We're a D-R company that happens to have a brand. I'm a D-R marketer myself and I love the opportunity to leverage when you can really bring online, offline and social media together to build brands. We've done some key things that clearly need a brand to justify the spend. My concern about online measurement is you become so addicted to those numbers you can't measure brand attribution or what it means to partner with [The Major League Baseball] All-Star Game. You can't measure the brand impact to be associated with MLB if you become too focused on the D-R metrics. If you're totally all metric-driven you can overlook what made advertising great over the last 50 years.
1. Make events out of your brand by teaming up with like-minded media partners. The more unexpected, the more buzz you generate.
2. Know your audience. If a product isn't hitting a desired target , shift your strategy or product focus.
3. Let consumers be your media. Branded jingles or contests can sometimes promote your product better than any TV buy.
4. Be transparent. The more upfront you are about your product's fees, the more consumers will trust you.
5. Branding is from the gut. No matter how many metrics you subscribe to, don't forget the importance of instinct.