Saturday, July 20, 2013

Wonga's advertising is memorable and successful (apparently) - why?

This week's Marketing headlines that: "Wonga's pensioners top the recall chart."

Betty, Earl & Joyce - the characters in the ads seem to be working wonders for Wonga.

When most company's marketing departments would go into group cardiac arrest if you suggested featuring an older face in an ad - Wonga's advertising is based around three odd looking oldies.

Why did the company select this approach and why does it appear to be working?

First let's start with a bit of background. Wonga is a payday loan company that charges an APR of  around 4000%. I am sure the company would dispute both this label and its charges but don't let's beat about the bush, that is what the company does.

In the past, this sort of business was done in pubs and on street corners but the guy who started Wonga has used the Web as his channel and is doing very nicely. Interestingly, he is going to use the same model for small businesses.

As you can imagine, these short term, high interest loans have come in for a heap of criticism from the charities and politicos. Unfortunately, the sad trurth is that some people's financials wobble so close to disaster that the only thing that keeps them from going under is access to loans of money until the next paycheck or state security payment arrives. There will be a lot more people in this position within the UK.

A month ago I had lunch with an old mate, Reg Starkey, who is a very experienced ad man who has seen the very best and worst of UK advertising. Reg is particularly experienced in the practicalities of advertising to the older demographic.

I started our conversation by saying - let's ignore the question if payday loans are a good or bad thing - why is Wonga using this creative approach. This is what he said using his own words:

I don't think you can leave aside the ethics of the lender-of-last-resort. (It's the Elephant in the Room, to leave no cliche unturned)
My guess is that this is the hidden agenda in the black art that is 'account planning' - perhaps a counter-irritant technique? You are distracting the attention from the essence of message by weird visuals and voices.
This may be similar...
Deliberately setting out to be controversial by being potentially offensive in the age/ageism area precisely in order to distract attention from the ugly reality of the deal that is in fact on offer
And using animated characters to confuse the real issues even further?
The geriatric TV scenario suggesting an eternal triangle, or potential troilism, does dramatise the point of "no funny business"

I would add a couple of other thoughts to why the creative was selected and why it is making such an impact:

What could be less threatening than three odd looking caricatures of grandparents who are slighly batty? Wonga's success is also due to some very smart web design and who better to show that any idiot can use the site than having three stereotypes of technophobia running the operations?

The strangeness of the ad must also contribute to its success. We all know the aversion that ad people have to anything old so why not use this rarity of older imagery and then ramp it up to an extreme level?

The voices in the ad are as extreme as the imagery. The upper class shrill voice countered by the working class. Interestingly, Earl never says a word and always closes the add with some bizarre action. Perhaps another example of the distraction effect?

We could analyse this ad to death but the fact remains that it works and has succeed in making an unpalatable service look everyday and harmless. Well done the creatives.

Cripes - nearly forgot. Who are these ads aimed at? In the UK the most likely user of a payday loan is somebody under-35 without children. So the target market could easily be the grandchild of the people in the ad. Maybe that is another reason for the choice of creative - make them look look your grandparents.

Added on the 28th July.

The story of Wonga seems to run and run and run. The Archbishop of Canterbury has now started contributing to Wonga's PR campaign by one day saying he is going to put them out of business and the next apologising for the church's investment in the company. You couldn't make it up. Anyway, my moles tell me that Wonga reckon that the ecclesiastical intervention is worth millions of pounds worth of free publicity. Dick Stroud

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