Citi’s Message Gets “Sticky” Using Stories

In this case, I’m talking about the Dan-and-Chip-Heath sense of “sticky” meaning an idea or message that endures—something that sticks with you. Citi recently launched a new marketing campaign, “Citi Stories,” that is undeniably sticky, and it stands out as an excellent example of artful marketing. I watched each of their quick videos, and their simply persuasive message stuck with me: “What’s your story? Citi can help you write it.” Even more importantly, in a few short seconds Citi was able to show me how they might help consumers write their own story.

To get this kind of message across for a big bank, or any seemingly faceless corporation, is a tall order. My readers are probably a lot like me in how we view big companies like Citi and Wells Fargo, or non-financial companies like Unitedhealthcare, Apple, and countless more. We tend to think, “Sure—these companies are going to tell me how much they care and how important I am to them, but it’s just insincere marketing. To them I’m really just a dollar sign.” This thinking is so universal and so thoroughly embraced I often wonder why most companies bother trying to change it. But, they do, and nearly all of them fail. Except Citi.

In their best-selling book, “Made to Stick” the authors lay out five descriptors of something sticky. They say that the message or idea must be:

  • Simple
  • Unexpected
  • Concrete
  • Credentialed
  • Emotional

Let’s briefly look at one of the “Citi Stories” examples and see how well it matches up with these attributes. We’ll take the “Weather Balloon” story as an example. The 30-second video introduces us to a guy who got a Citi credit card, gained some points by making purchases and bought a weather balloon. The video shows him with his buddies busting out the weather balloon and some other gear. They are giddy with excitement on a beautiful hillside as they inflate the balloon with a camera and launch it into the sky. Next, we see them huddled in a van celebrating as they watch a live stream from the camera now somewhere approaching outer space. We see the earth below and the mysterious blackness of space ahead while the balloon launchers are high-fiving somewhere on the blue planet.

  • Simple: The guy got a Citi card and bought stuff which led him to a truly unusual adventure.
  • Unexpected: The Citi card allowed him to do something unexpectedly cool: launch a weather balloon.
  • Concrete: The card didn’t just give him a bunch of abstract “points.” It led to a great experience he shared in the real world with real friends.
  • Credentialed: Citi fulfilled its promise. It claims to give people rewards, and here is the proof. The video comes across as genuine and believable.
  • Emotional: We can all relate to the exhilarating experience this guy had with his friends launching the balloon. Each of us yearns for an analogous experience, even if completely different from the launching of a balloon.

This is only one of several Citi “stories,” and they are all quite good. I recommend any of them as great examples of marketing and the power of persuasion. Like all of us, I’ve been conditioned through thousands and thousands of experiences to see banks as icy-cold number-crunching institutions that have little to do with me as a person. I salute Citi’s marketing team (and the agency they hired Smile)for taking seriously the enormous task of challenging those many entrenching experiences with some fresh and “sticky.”

–John R. Durant © 2011


About John R. Durant

Drawing on years fostering innovation in the high-tech industry, most notably at Microsoft, John is a principal researcher at Savvysherpa building new businesses.
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