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NAB’s social media strategy: Create a common enemy [But aren’t ALL banks ‘the enemy’?]


Last Friday night, NAB appeared to have one of those butt-clenching moments when a not-so-corporate tweet went out via @nab, the banking giant’s Twitter account.

It read: “Sooooo stressed out. Have to make a tough decision and I know I’ll probably hurt someone’s feelings! Arrggghhh.”

The message was retweeted over 100 times, eliciting both amusement and sympathy from the Twittersphere. Even competitor Westpac tried to muscle in on the action, tweeting: “Hey @nab know the feeling.”

Whether Westpac’s tweet was referring to an equally sticky relationship conundrum or last year’s “Oh so very over it today” Twitter-whoopsie is anyone’s guess. (We suspect it was the latter.)

Regardless, come Saturday morning, Westpac no doubt regretted its friendly overture. The Daily Telegraph reported a pre-Valentine Day promotion by NAB encouraging mortgage holders to ‘break up’ with its competitors in exchange for it footing their exit fees up to the value of $700.

Tim Burrowes, editor of media and marketing blog Mumbrella, reported on Monday that he had spoken with a NAB spokesperson and that “the social media stunt was the idea and work of its own social media team, rather than any of its agencies.”

The view of Burrowes mirrors ours perfectly:

“Getting it on the front page of the Tele was a pretty good PR move on its own, of course. Punking Westpac into promoting the offer – sheer brilliance.”

Or to reference another example of memorable marking from the banking sector — Priceless!

The stunt has since morphed into a major viral campaign. In addition to the Daily Telegraph PR, NAB released a number of videos welcoming Westpac et al to Dumpsville.

The NAB’s ‘It’s Not You, It’s Me’ Letter

More clips can be found on NAB’s own YouTube Channel.

The response from Twitter following the fake-out reveal included both virtual high-fiving and the less positive, such as, “Hey, lets manipulate the demographic because we see the population as sheep, not individuals.” (We think someone had their too-tight cranky-pants on that day.)

Before shooting down NAB’s efforts, consider the source.

Banks and Social Media: Unlikely bedfellows

Banking institutions aren’t known for their adventurous marketing — a recent report from market analyst Datamonitor found a mere 14% of retail banks worldwide currently use social media for marketing, while a shocking 60% have no plans to use social media at all.

Unlike its counterparts, NAB has stepped way outside its comfort zone to take a punt at engaging with customers via viral marketing.

And, as Imagineering Unlimited founder and Anthill contributor Rhondalynn Korolak sagely summed up on her own blog, if you consider that NAB’s shares and Return on Assets have long trailed its competitors’ — despite nixing fees and offering cheaper homes loans over 18 months ago — what did the heartbreaker have to lose?

“I would have thought that the NAB made its intention (to see other people) clear over 18 months ago when it began axing fees and offering cheaper home loans?  Clear to whom is the operative question though?” says Korolak.

“Despite the marketing money spent and the slashed rates, customers don’t seem to be flocking to the NAB to take up these attractive offers.  In fact, NAB’s shares and Return on Assets have been lagging behind the other Big Four banks.

“NAB’s standard variable mortgage rate is 19 basis points cheaper than Westpac’s and 14 points lower than the Commonwealth’s rates.  This equates to a massive decrease in margins for the financial performance of the NAB, which has not been offset by increased top line revenues or market share.”

Social Media 101: Create a common enemy

However, what’s truly impressive about this campaign is the sheer bravado inherent in a bank’s attempt to use social media’s oldest strategy: Create a common enemy.

This is simply because ‘banks’ in general have, for many years, been the common enemy of retailers, politicians and just about anyone else in need of a punching bag to redirect attention toward.

The strategy can be seen in blogs, Twitter feeds and any other social media activities that incorporate participation.

Perhaps the most famous (or, at least, the most memorable) is the Rage Against the Machine for Christmas #1 Campaign.

While the UK music industry has traditionally dictated the Number #1 music single every Christmas (through a combination of advertising and kick-backs to radio DJs), in 2006 a small group of rebellious Facebookers decided to suggest an alternative: A song called ‘Killing In The Name Of’ by hard-rock band Rage Against the Machine.

Notably the song featured the much repeated lyric, “Fuck you. I won’t do what you tell me.”

Within weeks, the Facebook Fanpage had attracted over half a million fans, breaking chart records by prompting the highest number of music downloads in one week in UK history, and made ‘Killing In The Name Of’ Britain’s first ever download-only Christmas No.1 single.

This tactic is also the foundation of ANZ’s very popular ‘Barbara from Bankland’ campaign.

By creating a common enemy, brands often attempt to distance their acts from those of the perceived ‘wrong-doer’. But, so far, in Australia, we have not yet seen a major brand take the concept to such extremes.

What can we learn?

Firstly, it seems that big Australian brands are finally waking up to the potential of social media.

The campaign was integrated, combining traditional advertising with tweets and a raft of YouTube clips on NAB’s own YouTube Channel. It also had a clear call- to-action — “Migrate to us and save” — without resorting to messages about discounting.

So, what do you think of NAB’s campaign: Masterful marketing or a ‘cheap’ (in this case ‘expensive’) attempt to exploit the oldest trick of social media: Create a common enemy?