How we led the king of innovation by 18 months

Josh Mabus

by Josh Mabus

An exciting thing happened the other night.

I was sitting on the couch with the family watching some March Madness basketball (enjoying my record-setting bracket). There was a break in the action, so as families are wont to do, we all checked our phones. That’s when I heard the familiar opening notes to Vulfpeck’s “Back Pocket,” a great little earworm we licensed for a Renasant Bank motion graphics spot a couple of years ago. It’s always nice to catch something my agency produces “in the wild.”

I whistled along for a moment, but looked up…

That’s when I froze.

The song was the same, but the visuals weren’t.

This was the ad that was playing:

I watched the spot in something akin to shock.

I was a little beside myself. At first, I felt a bit upset. We’d been usurped.

But. We’d be usurped by the best consumer marketing company of the modern age.

That’s when the texts started pouring in:

“Dude! I thought it was the Renasant spot, but it was Apple!”

“How did you do that?”

I checked with the client. He was getting the same messages.

Truth be told, though, there was no magic to it. It’s pretty simple. We’d licensed this exact song for use in this commercial nearly two years before Apple’s marketing team selected it.

It was just a perfect song for a spot with deeper strategic significance.

Our ad focused on the Renasant Bank app’s mobile banking features, and it did so for a reason. To quote another famous ditty: The times, they were a-changin’ for banks. They still are.

Two years ago marked an epoch in how users interacted with bank brands. After years of steady growth, mobile usage had caught up to desktop account access. And mobile usage was still on the rise. It didn’t take a genius to figure out that it was beyond time to switch to mobile-first thinking.

But banking is a titanic industry and one that hardly turns on a dime. Most bank marketing is reactionary:

“Bank Blue has a commercial out for HELOC loans, so we’ve got to get out a commercial for our HELOC loans!”

“Why do we push mortgages in the spring? EVERYBODY pushes mortgages in the spring!”

Luckily, Renasant Bank saw the proverbial writing on the wall and had invested in a cutting-edge mobile experience—one that we were ready and willing to advertise with the spot you see above.

At Mabus, we work best off pivots like this. When an industry is changing, or when it’s facing a do-or-die moment, that’s when it offers a small window of opportunity—a window Mabus Agency capitalizes on again and again.

Our “Back Pocket” spot featured slick, simple animation that simply looked different from anything else in the market. It focused on the Renasant app’s integration with Apple Pay and remote deposit, highlighting how Renasant adapts to industry shifts rather than trying to prevent them.

The spot didn’t rely on other brand names to prop it up. We let the Renasant app stand on its own.

On that note, why do banks insist on name-dropping three or four other brands to legitimize their products? Is that making any sort of difference to the customer? Probably not (and what does it say about your product to admit it can’t stand on its own?). And keep in mind, all the other banks are using the same co-branding, too.

It’s worth noting that neither spot, Renasant’s or Apple’s, features voiceover or narration, aside from Renasant’s “Understanding You” tag in Mabus Agency’s spot. Both commercials are perfect examples of showing over telling. Most customers already know how to use their phone—they don’t need a bank to explain it.

The goal was to leave a viewer with a feeling: this brand can do this thing.

Our “Back Pocket” spot is the antithesis of how many banks would market a product. That’s why it worked. It wasn’t genius. We simply found a place where we execute well and saw it through.

As we like to say, we zigged when others were zagging.

The spot left users with a tune stuck in their heads—Renasant received many calls asking about the song on its new commercial. More importantly, we didn’t get caught up in explaining how the app works.

It just so happens, that’s exactly what Apple did with their spot, too. I couldn’t be more thrilled about it.

If we hadn’t executed on this idea two years ago, we wouldn’t be enjoying this success. It’s a great validation that our techniques are right when things pan out like this.

When we licensed the Vulfpeck song, it was (ital) very affordable. Who knows what it costs after the Apple spot? We were even ahead of the curve on Vulfpeck’s success. They played at the Brooklyn Bowl in September and appeared on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert in November.

My point is, you have to do something besides keeping-up-with-the-Jones’s bank. If you’re always playing catch-up, you’ll never lead the pack. The quickest way to fall behind is to look around and see what everyone else is doing. That’s why Apple, Nike, and other heavy hitters win with their brand as much as with their products.

The good news is that, since the banking industry is caught up in mundanely explaining products that consumers understand better than banks (think Venmo), a little bit of creativity goes a long way. Trying just a little bit harder helps you achieve huge results. Let’s face it: we’re in a highly-regulated industry where all competitors wind up offering very similar products.

Your brand—your identity—has to be intentional and authentic. It doesn’t matter if you’re a good imitator of another bank, because that bank will always be ahead. Customers can see right through it.

It takes work and effort to differentiate your bank from another entity selling almost exactly the same thing. Look diligently for those opportunities and seize them when you can. It will be the difference in a jump to the next level and staying on an even playing field.

You have to face the music—and maybe go ahead and buy a little, too.

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