Campaign Trail is our analysis of some of the best new creative efforts from the marketing world. View past columns in the archives here.
Financial decision-making about everything from credit card rewards to mortgage loans can be daunting, even in times of relative certainty. Inflation and the possibility of a recession are only exacerbating the problem, as is the internet, where reading financial tips and tricks can feel like drinking from a fire hose.
NerdWallet, a personal finance website and app, is looking to ease the pressure on consumers with side-by-side comparisons and expertise from its 100-person strong editorial team, which it terms the "nerds.”
To raise awareness about its brand and value proposition, the company last month debuted its first campaign with newly appointed creative agency of record, Deutsch LA. At the heart of "Smartest Decision" are campaign spots that revolve around idioms — dragging one's feet, sitting on the fence — and how a NerdWallet nerd can save the day and get a decision made.
"This campaign really leaned into this universal truth of financial decision-making: It's tough," said Alison McGlone, senior brand director at NerdWallet. "We're bringing that to life, [and] for the very first time, we're bringing to life in our creative the heroes behind all of the work that we do."
Bringing nerds to life
At NerdWallet, the nerds are the ones that do the research and dig into the nitty gritty of financial products, driving the company's financial comparison engine and serving as its heartbeat. In the digital spots, the nerds do the same thing: help characters get to moments of clarity and competence and actually make a decision.
"Our nerds at NerdWallet are so passionate about the work that they do and about the advice that they provide," McGlone said. "I love how the spots depict these nerds."
The 30-second commercials, "Dragging Your Feet" and "On The Fence," are true to their name. In the first, a woman, aided by special effects, drags her feet through a picnic, a softball game and the library. In the second, a man sits on the fence, much to the chagrin of his exasperated partner. Both issues are solved when NerdWallet nerds show up and get things back on track with the NerdWallet app. The spots connect quirky visuals with an illustration of the company's product.
"We tried to come up with a way to dramatize those moments of indecision in a way that's very relatable, but also wanted something that is highly visual that we thought could really hook viewers in from frame one," said Ryan Lehr, executive creative director at Deutsch LA.
Like other brand mascots — think Progressive's Flo or Jake from State Farm — the nerds can serve as an "ownable asset" for NerdWallet's marketing, with their green business-casual attire tying back to the company's branding. But the agency also worked to make the characters warm, relatable and memorable.
"We've really put a lot of rigor into trying to give these nerds some personality," Lehr said. "We spent a lot of time fine-tuning the details of the nerds because we wanted them to pop onscreen."
Meeting consumers where they are
Personal finance decision-making is just that: personal. As a brand, NerdWallet wants to show up for consumers during those personal moments with relevance and relatability. That strategy is met not just in the campaign's creative but also in a media strategy developed by Mediahub.
"We look to meet you where you are," McGlone said. "Sometimes financial decision-making is in the big moments, like getting a mortgage or buying a home, and sometimes it's in the smaller moments like, 'What's the best credit card for me to travel to see my favorite team play?'"
Leveraging digital out-of-home, social and over-the-top channels, the campaign's media strategy aims for consumers' passion points, from gaming to sports to music, connecting NerdWallet's offering with making better financial decisions in a way that allows them to maximize those experiences.
In one extension to the campaign, NerdWallet will become the official sponsor of the “Bye Week” notifications within Yahoo Fantasy Football through the entire season. Formerly held by State Farm, the sponsorship integrates the brand into a weekly video series in which Yahoo Fantasy hosts highlight “Smart Decisions” in fantasy football.
With campaign spots that focus on relatable problem-solving and a media strategy keyed into consumer passions, NerdWallet and Deutsch LA see “Smartest Decision” as the way to bring saliency during a tough economic time when the brand's offering could be even more attractive.
"It feels very relevant right now for a lot of people," Lehr said. "It feels like you're surrounded constantly by the news and inflation… Everywhere we look, there seems to be a reason why you can potentially not make a decision or at least be a little bit apprehensive to make a decision. It definitely feels like a relevant time to be the personal finance space."