In recession, lean into your brand, says Ally's Andrea Brimmer
As marketers descended on Orlando for the Masters of Marketing conference, the Dow had taken a significant tumble, but Andrea Brimmer, chief marketing and public relations officer at Ally, is confident that recession isn’t around the corner. “We don’t see any signs in the data” that a downturn is imminent, she says in this video interview, noting there is healthy consumer spending and consumers are paying back their debt. However, she says, it’s always a good idea to prepare, especially as the coming election is likely to cause nervousness among consumers.
Her advice: “Lean into your brand and don’t cut back spending,” Brimmer says. “While the economy is strong, push it as far as you possibly can and then make the proper adjustments.”
Brimmer says those adjustments will mainly be in messaging if a downturn takes hold. Ally, which launched in the teeth of the last recession, knows better than most. The company disrupted the financial services market by introducing the notion of online banking. “We made a huge bet,” said Brimmer during her ANA stage presentation earlier on Thursday. “We said, ‘Everyone is going to bank in the palm of their hand.’”
The company succeeded in getting people to “convince millions of people to send their money to the internet. To trust in something they never heard of,” she said, with ads like the one that showed a man asking a little girl if she wanted a pony and giving her a toy. He asks another little girl and she says yes—and is given an actual live pony. When she questions the unfairness of why her pony isn’t real, he says: “you didn’t ask.” The spot drew a sharp line between Ally and old-line banks that dictate rules to customers. “We want to be a relentless ally for our customers’ well being,” said Brimmer from the stage.
It worked well enough that traditional banks also began muscling into online banking, narrowing its point of difference. So Ally asked itself, “If our brand went away tomorrow, would anyone care?” To make sure they would care, Ally made the decision to once again, as Brimmer put it in her stage presentation, “fuel dissatisfaction.” As the country came back from recession, consumers got “fat and happy again, not remembering what they missed.”
Ally again ignited disruption by “weaponizing” its brand against the competition as a catalyst for growth. It began with an agency review with a one-line brief: Make Ally a famous brand. Anomaly emerged the victor as creative agency; R/GA for digital; and Mediacom for media. The ads that resulted urged consumers to check reviews for banks like they do for sushi restaurants and to stand up to big banks by taking control of their own money.
The company also made a bit of news for paying the shops during the review. “I came from the agency world and I have a deep appreciation for agencies,” says Brimmer in the video interview. They put a lot of work in and I felt they should be paid for it.”
Brimmer offers a quote from Anomaly’s founding partners and Executive Chairman Carl Johnson: “Clients get the work they deserve.”
“When you don’t treat agencies like partners and you don’t give them clear briefs and you are not honest with them about how you feel about the work,” you do shops a disservice, says Brimmer. “I know it is very in vogue to build your own in-house agency, but we haven’t gone there,” she says, noting that Ally has found the right mix for its brand and it’s working.
“If our brand went away tomorrow, we think people would care,” she said from the Masters stage. “Our customer satisfaction sits at around 95 percent” while the average in the category is 30 to 35 percent. And Ally’s brand valuation in the past year has doubled.