Use humor with existing customers: Capital One

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SAN FRANCISCO - Turns out that achieving the "No hassle" image is not quite "No sweat" for Capital One or its ad agency.

Balancing brand strategy with direct response marketing is a process that requires strategic planning, creative innovation and persistence, according to Marc Mentry, brand marketing vice president at Capital One, and Tom Klug, brand executive at the CFM Direct, the credit card issuer's direct agency.

"No one had done a lot of humor in the financial sector before," Mr. Mentry told session attendees at the DMA 06 show here.

Before coming up with humorous creative featuring Vikings or David Spade, Capital One executives first determined brand vision and positioning as a base to all promotional work. These insights led to the development of a "brand promise," or ideal offers for each target market.

"If your brand promise doesn't resonate with your target audience, then your brand will fail," Mr. Klug said. "If you can make the brand promise tie in to a good offer, acquisition is going to be really easy."

The promotion development cycle ends at adding personality to the offer. Here's where the humor comes in. However, a customer's expectation plays a key role.

"Brand personality should not just be painted on with one broad brush," Mr. Mentry said.

He said it was important provide billing and customer support with a focus on business rather than brand message or cross-sell.

One example of overly creative advertising was a rubber ducky direct mail piece that featured several yellow bath toys and asked if customers had all their ducks in a row.

"We probably went too far with the cutesy in this case," Mr. Mentry said. "This might be something that you want to use with customers you already have existing relationships with."

The piece only got good results in small segments and did not translate broadly, according to Mr. Mentry.

In fact, Capital One saw more success when using humor with existing customers to further promote cross-products and services or when sticking to a straightforward message that tied in brand colors, logo and copy alluding to a broad campaign theme (no hassle) with maintained relevancy.

"Knowing your parameters and thinking inside the box is important," Mr. Klug said. "Sometimes you need to rein in the creative people on your team to ensure you are meeting the core objectives for your client's campaign."

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