‘That’s Not Right’: 5 Questions With Ally Financial CMO Andrea Brimmer


Ally Bank

Ally Financial first disrupted the financial services industry 10 years ago when it launched its digital-only banking brand. Since then, it has remained true to its vision to be “a relentless ally for your financial well-being.”

With the tagline “Do It Right,” the brand has retained a strong customer-centric focus by “putting the customer at the center of everything we do,” Ally’s CMO Andrea Brimmer told Hermann Behrens, Chief Growth Officer, NA, at Interbrand.

In its latest campaign, developed with new agency partners Anomaly, MediaCom and RG/A, Ally has taken its fight to competitors by attacking their poor service and lousy rates while rolling out a new cashback rewards program.

The “Letter to America” print ads and ad spots, which served as a teaser to “It’s Payback Time,” are part of a wider campaign that will be rolling out throughout the fall.

“We couldn’t be more pleased with the campaign,” said Brimmer. “We’ve created really strong social conversation, strong levels of traffic to our website and landing page, and every day we’ve broken new records in terms of most account openings.

Behrens spoke with Brimmer to learn more about Ally’s disruptive strategy, its customer commitment and its vision for the future.

Ally’s new campaign really highlights that banks need to look after customers’ money by focusing on their financial needs. What was the thinking behind the campaign?

Andrea Brimmer Ally

When we launched 10 years ago during the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, consumers were very apathetic toward the banking category literally wasting their hard-earned money on lost interest and fees. Our thought at the time was the world doesn’t need another bank—but it absolutely needs a better bank. So we tried to create emotion, and I think we did an amazing job in terms of the product and service offering for solving for customer pain points.

Fast-forward 10 years later, the economy is good, unemployment is low, and people are getting a little apathetic again toward paying attention to their money. Sitting in a conference room with our new agencies, I asked: “Can everybody tell me where you bank and how much interest you’re making?” And while everybody knew where they banked, not one person knew how much interest they were getting—sound familiar?

That was a huge “a-ha” moment.

This idea of apathy really drove the campaign—this idea that you work really hard for your money and your bank should work just as hard to make sure you make money from that money. We really wanted to convey that what’s happening in the category is not right, and people need to start paying attention again.

Ally Bank

What does the next phase of this campaign look like?

We’re continuing to keep the brand’s “Do It Right” tagline and we’ve created a really interesting construct, which we call “incite, inform and inspire.”

We’re in the “incite” phase now to reawaken consumers around the idea of money-mindfulness and paying attention to their money.

The activation for this phase includes some big bold newspaper ads, television and digital outdoor in Los Angeles, Detroit, Charlotte and Boston. We also did a full two-hour takeover of New York’s Fulton Street subway station. And there’s some really interesting social involved on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter that drives consumers to a landing page at Ally.com/payback, The web page has a calculator and shows the 1.9% interest we’re paying—including the total value of your money if you move it over to Ally.

The next “inform” and “inspire” phases will launch in the December timeframe. They will continue this idea we’ve started to tease that “better is out there” and then really start to define what “better” means.

As part of your disruption journey, how has Ally managed retention as well as acquisition of new customers?

When we first launched, it was really about getting on people’s radar and creating awareness for this new brand. The focus was to explain that there was a new type of financial solution through digital banking, and that we were putting the customer at the center of everything that we were going to do in this category—which had really never been done before.

A lot of our effort was spent helping consumers get over that mental hurdle of: “What do you mean there’s no branch to walk into?” Soon, we started to transition to no branches equals great rates.

And once the marketplace started accepting digital financial services, we’ve become super disruptive in terms of awareness as well as product acquisition. Using what we call our “disruptor calendar,” we’ve done a series of different things to retain customers.

With our new splurge alert app, customers tell us what their financial kryptonite is, and we geofence those locations. And if they walk into one those spots, they’ll get an alert from Ally, that might say, for example: “You spend too much money here and you’re saving for spring break.”

It also pushes an alert to people customers have identified as their support network, who might text to say, “Don’t go in there and spend—you want to go on vacation!”

We also did the Lucky Penny promotion, where we had 10 pennies in 10 cities across the country. The Ally-branded pennies were each worth a thousand dollars and created a scavenger hunt to remind people that “a penny saved is a penny earned”—and even the smallest amount of savings can add up over time.

And then we get a huge interruption around the Super Bowl where we created a virtual reality game called The Big Save. The phone app only worked during commercial breaks, and it rained down virtual money for users to catch and put into a virtual piggy bank. People with the top 15 scores were granted their savings wishes. So we paid for college for one kid. We bought a car for a family who lost a car in a hurricane. We helped pay some medical bills for another family—so that has been a really interesting tactic for us.

On the acquisition side, we use a combination of email, digital and social to acquire customers in a very efficient and effective way. It’s been a bit of the one-two punch to put as many prospects in the top of the funnel through disruptive techniques. And then once they’re in the funnel, we use efficient media to help drive them deeper through the funnel and convert them.

Ally Bank

Ally is a disruptive brand—a challenger brand—and you’ve got to be very authentic in the way you balance the business and your brand values. How do you keep this relentless focus on being your clients’ ally?

One interesting aspect about Ally is our size. We’re a top 25 digital bank, a top 50 bank, and it would seem like we’re a big company, but we only have 8,300 people. We still feel like the same scrappy company with that same hunger we had when we launched 10 years ago.

And customer-centricity is part of our culture—the customer is sitting around the table with us in literally every single conversation that we have.

We know that if we ever take the customer for granted, we’re done—because that’s 100% what we stand for. It’s why we selected the name Ally, and it’s why we selected our “Do It Right” tagline. Which also happens to be our strongest brand tiller. And it’s why we use words like “relentless ally” because that’s who we are and what we’re about.

And I can honestly tell you that we will sit around the table and debate for hours about whether something is that the right thing to do for the customer. This 1% promotion is a great example. It’s open to both our customers as well as our prospects. And so this is not some kind of a tease or promotion to just get you in and then slip you into some lousy rate. This is our way of saying: “If you’re our customer, we thank you.”

Ally Bank

Looking ahead three to five years, what does the next move look like for Ally?

The pivot is to really the move toward becoming a full usage brand through providing new solutions.

For example, we have a lot of really interesting data—not necessarily data about our customers. The data can be useful for people to learn about the area they live in. For example, they might to know: What is the average cost of cable and am I paying too much? Or what does an average person pay for a car payment and how should I be thinking about that?

When we aggregate data for the benefit of money-mindfulness, we truly become a usage brand on every level. I don’t think about us as a bank; I think about us as a tech company that happens to have financial products.

The key thing for us is keeping that human touch and making sure people know that there are always humans available to you 24/7/365—and that’s a huge differentiator.

Get more insights in our Q&A series.