Brand Blogging

Friday, May 12, 2006

Chase: the card for irresponsible overspenders

The Chase commercial "First Checking" has been around for a while now, but it was only recently that I got to see the 60-second spot. As the storyboard (pdf) explains:
This story is about a girl named Roxy who is in her 20s and is just starting out in the big city. She gets her first paycheck at work and immediately goes to open a new Maximum Strength Checking Account at Chase. Throughout the spot, we see Roxy using Chase Online Bill Pay, Text Alerts, her Check card, and various features from the bank as she bursts with energy in her new and empowered life. The portal closes with Your Choice. Your Chase.
And yet, the story that I see is a lot different. This story is about a girl named Roxy who has just graduated from college and is carrying who-knows-what in debt. She is hired at an office somewhere in the big city because they needed warm bodies to fill the cubicles. When she gets her paycheck at work she has the following exchange with the guy handing the checks out—
Guy: "Roxy?"
Roxy (enthusiastically): "Yes!"
G: "Don't tell me, first paycheck?"
R: (more enthusiastically): "Yes!"
Even though the line about the first paycheck was merely meant as throwaway expository dialog, the guy who says it does so in such a way that he seems to be intimating that one paycheck is nothing to get excited about and that in the future she won't be so enthusiatic about getting her weekly check, seeing as there's not much in it and she'll probably be getting them for the majority of the rest of her life. Probably not what was intended, but deliciously ironic nonetheless, given its context.

Roxy is excited. So much so that she runs right out and...opens a Chase checking account. Cut to a scene of her and her boyfriend looking at cute puppies, and you know she just has to have one. Does she have the dough? Her checking balance shows up on her cell phone, which tells her that she has a whopping few hundred bucks in her account. She buys the bulldog! Which (According to my father the veterinarian) over the next twelve months will cost her roughly $1000-$1200 in medical bills alone, and that's excluding the cost of food as well as any number of major medical precedures that a dog (even a super-cutesie bulldog) might at some point have to undergo. Cut to Roxy in a new outfit getting another account update on her phone. Roxy throwing down her Chase card at a restaurant to pay for herself and her friends (although there is a shot of her grabbing the cash her friends had laid out to pay).

Somewhere in the midst of all this there is a snippet lasting no more than two seconds showing her at the computer actually paying her bills.

The strategy being employed here is almost too devious in its cynicism: pandering specifically to a demographic that likes to spend money it doesn't really don't have. And, by the way, it's not just the younger crowd that's prone to irrseponsible spending; in a US News article on growing American debt (as well as the possible effect of an interest rate hike), they profile a 41-year-old pharmacy technician who "amassed roughly $30,000 in debt spread out over eight cards" by paying for "vacations, jewelry, and especially shoes, over 600 pairs housed in a custom-built, cedar-lined closet" in his basement. He then explains this by saying "'It's so easy to buy a pair of $300 shoes when you have plastic.'"

Technically, since this is a commercial about a checking account, Roxy is spending money that she has - even if she's not making that wisest of spending decisions. However, I'm sure that once they know her buying and spending habits better the people at Chase will be able to offer her the perfect credit card.

Rather than being a wealth management tool, the checking account is portrayed in this spot as a means of more efficiently pissing away your earnings without the nuisance of building up any significant savings.

In advertising, there is something called the shape-versus-mirror debate: does adverising merely mirror society, or can it actually shape societal attitudes? The answer is almost always mirror, but all that means is that advertising is complicit in amplifying certain societal trends. While one commercial is not going to be the sole reason that anyone goes into a financial downward spiral, the ad certainly does nothing to discourage the kind of reckless spending that has led to Generation Y being labeled Generation Debt; in fact, people who spend this way seem to be the target demographic. As a long-term marketing strategy it makes no sense to me: how will banks have any customers in the future if everyone is broke?

As the man says, "It's so easy to buy a pair of $300 shoes when you have plastic."

Your life could be somebody's branding strategy.


By the way, Kudos to JPMorganChase for making their tv and print ads readily available on their web site. It's something all companies should do.

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