Mar 14, 2016, 5:00 am SGT
Assistant Business Editor
Imagine Apple advising consumers to unplug from technology or Mercedes-Benz calling on drivers to stay off the roads.
As radical and unlikely as it might sound, this is the approach that DBS Bank is taking with its latest branding campaign, with ads urging: “Live More, Bank Less”.
The phrase might sound strange coming from a bank that surely wants more consumers and corporations to use its services.
According to its head of strategic marketing and communications, Ms Karen Ngui, the concept came about in 2014 when the bank was embracing innovation and digital banking in a big way, and wanted its branding and marketing strategy to keep pace.
“It was time for us to be somewhat more disruptive about how we positioned ourselves,” she said.
Furthermore, since 2006, DBS has centred its branding around the theme of being an Asian-focused bank. Its tagline, even now, is “Living, Breathing Asia”.
After having become an Asian juggernaut that no longer needs to beat its own drum so loudly, it decided the time had come to take a new perspective, Ms Ngui said.
That led to a round of soul-searching, prompting the group’s marketing brains to question the very purpose of banking itself.
“The reason people do banking is that they want to do something with their lives – whether you’re a businessman or a mother planning for your child’s education. You want to make things happen. So we came up with the concept of igniting possibilities,” Ms Ngui said.
Also, studies have shown that few people enjoy carrying out their banking activities, she noted.
“Their perception of banking is lots of paperwork, standing in line and waiting. But we are about making things simple, smart and effective.”
That gave rise to “Live More, Bank Less” – an implicit promise that, if you bank with DBS, you can take care of your banking chores easily and quickly, and get on with your life.
Riffing on the same theme, other ads rolled out by the bank since then have centred on themes such as: “Live Simple”, “Live Connected” and “Your bank should be like the air that you breathe”.
Mr Luke Lim, the chief executive of branding consultancy AS Louken, said the campaign is right on trend, exemplifying characteristics that are appreciated by consumers today, such as authenticity and boldness.
“I respect them for what they have done,” he said. “(The campaign) captures their intent of using technology and digital innovation… to help consumers save time on low-value banking processes.”
Of course, no marketing campaign these days would be complete without a social and digital media strategy.
The bank had amassed about six million followers, subscribers and friends across various social networking platforms, including Facebook and Twitter, as well as WeChat and Sina Weibo in China.
Creating original content seemed like the next logical step – so was born Sparks, a three-episode miniseries.
Its slick production quality belies the fact that it was written, shot and edited in just three months.
The series follows DBS banker Claire, played by Ms Jamie Ha, who works closely with client Lindsey, the founder of a solar energy start-up, to get the business off the ground despite overwhelming obstacles.
Sparks has been a hit with both DBS staff and clients, garnering around 750,000 views.
Cathay Organisation managing director Choo Meileen said: “One point resonates very much with me, and that is why DBS remains our principal banker – what Lindsey said at the end, that DBS came to her rescue in her darkest hour when no other bank would. It was the same for me.”
The plot of the miniseries was in fact based on real-life events. The client was Sunseap Leasing, now Singapore’s largest clean energy provider. In 2011, it was just a young start-up in a very new market. No one wanted to finance the untested company, until it approached DBS.
The character Claire’s real-life counterpart is Ms Catherine Tan, a DBS client relationship manager who saw the potential in Sunseap.
“Every time I watched (the miniseries), I teared up… I didn’t know I had played such a major role in this whole business. To see my contribution being portrayed brought me a great sense of fulfilment and satisfaction,” she said.
Already, there have been calls for more Sparks episodes, and the bank is now considering co-creating these with its social network, asking viewers for ideas about how the plot should unfold.
DBS hopes to unveil new episodes by the middle of this year.
But the work of solidifying the DBS brand will continue for far longer, and will go beyond ads and miniseries, Ms Ngui noted.
“What’s next is to demonstrate and prove how we can make banking joyful – whether you’re a POSB or DBS Treasures customer, an SME or a multinational client,” she said. “We believe that the future is not about banking in its current form.”