‘Firstdirect is like the platypus of banks, a little bit different’. This is correct, and the ad can be considered a televisual success.

However, online, apart from a well-deployed and anonymous teaser video, the campaign’s lack of fecundity is its main similarity with the platypus. 

I’ve had a little look at this curate’s egg of a campaign, with some good and bad bits revealed.

The adverts: right for TV, but not for online?

I have to whack it on the table, I’m not very keen on first direct’s Platypus videos.

The brand should be applauded for putting everything behind its slightly ‘wacky’ creative, though. The fact that the ad isn’t funny doesn’t really matter on television, where the audience is passive, because the advert, even if it falls flat, may still be memorable (black and white, platypus, accents).

It can even be argued the humour created by a bank can ill afford to be too edgy, as a trustworthy bank is one with the sense of humour of your hard-working and slightly cheesy father.

With the enormous amount of air time, too, the ad is as prominent as any other in cinemas and on the smaller screen. The black and white is recognisable and draws the viewer.

However, the humour strategy is a lot more risky online. The audience is very active and will barely watch stuff that isn’t worth it, let alone share it. Only truly funny and creative content will do the rounds.

In fact, I’d say there are completely different criteria for video online and off.

  • Online: compelling, sharable, ideally re-watchable.
  • Offline: large or strategic paid exposure, memorable for good or bad reasons.

The adverts are definitely better than some recent meerkat ads at getting the attention of the audience, for whatever reason.

Compare the Market, as the novelty of Aleksander wore off, found it difficult to match the impact of Go Compare, and its Robert Webb ads didn’t stick in the memory at all, gaining only 23,000 YouTube views since December 2012.

Online video

The campaign videos on YouTube have been viewed modestly (20,000 or so in three months), despite being slap bang in the middle of the first direct home page.

The video also doesn’t have many thumbs up. However, the call to action in the YouTube video is slightly better than the interactive one, a simple check out ‘#theunexpectedbank’. 

I think the clickable video (I’ve seen them on 4OD) lacks a call to action, mainly fronting the ability to view ‘outtakes’ from the video, and not to investigate the product on offer. 

Sure, a softly softly approach is best, but at some point you have to ease the customer from content to product, less abruptly than ‘platypus, platypus, interest rates’. 

There’s the option of a number of outtakes, which then show in pane, and the call to action is a small bar saying ‘Join the unexpected bank’, as well as a tiny ‘share’ button. Neither stand out; one of the drawbacks in all media for the otherwise very strong black and white first direct non-colour chart. 

I don’t think it’s the best strategy to give people the opportunity to see these outtakes at their own behest, rather a prominent call to action advertising an account or service of first direct’s would be better (e.g. £125 incentive to switch banks).

Check out these adverts with interactive elements clearer (more honest?) at pushing towards engagement with a product.

Yes, first direct's is more of a branding piece, but these are still a good guide for clear CTAs.



Twitter and teaser

The advert was mentioned ahead of launch, and there’s the occasional link to Facebook, as well as the occasional use of #unexpected[blank], but this Twitter account is fairly unimportant for the brand compared with the one FD uses as a customer service channel. 

The main campaign success was getting #unexpectedtweet to do very well as response to the teaser tv ad, showing how effective Twitter is when used with tv.

In fact, this video, hosted on a different YouTube account (obviously in order to be initially anonymous) has had nearly 175,000 views, which is mighty impressive.

Some have accused the unexpected tweet part of the first direct video to be a bit of a ripoff of this beautiful turkey video, but whether or not it is (I’d imagine a lot of beat boxing sounds the same), the #unexpectedtweet hashtag did well in May, around the teaser advert (just the birds part of the ad) airing.


There is the occasional intimation that some of the Facebook comments aren’t exactly spontaneous outpourings of praise. I think this is a little off the mark, but there are employees on there and long term customers, and FD seems to have a real fanbase, which can often make comments seems solicited when they’re not. 

Actually, if you look at the posts around the advert when it launched in May, there’s a fair amount of criticism for the ads. 

On the whole, there’s a decent amount of comments on Facebook around the ad campaign, and this makes sense. It’s something to be watched, but doesn’t generate debate.

Some behind-the-scenes photos etc have been added, and the Facebook account as a whole seems to have had a change of tack recently, veering towards financial advice and news, rather than being quite as ‘quirky’.

Out of home

The out of home ads hit the mark. They are suitably easy to take in and again pretty cheesy. I’m still not sure if first direct actually thinks beat boxing is down with the kids, or if it's just cleverly pitching at an older audience and not saying so. Either way, strong black and white ad. 

In conclusion

I might have sounded overly critical in this article. I actually think that first direct has made a bold move with this campaign that truly makes it stand out. 

The fact the bank doesn’t have branches and relies on savvy and loyal customers means they are well positioned to take this kind of risk. 

The platypus has a Yorkshire accent, referencing the company’s roots, which is a nice touch that Leeds based customers are likely to understand. 

I think the ad could have been funny, but ultimately it’s a very memorable piece of television, with the teaser finches racking up some momentum and interest ahead of launch. 

All in all, the onus is now on other banks to up their creative game. What do you think?

Econsultancy's Punch event is where 'Marketing meets Creative in the age of data and insight'. Curated by Creative Review, this event showcases the best of insight-driven creative. This event forms part of our week-long Festival of Marketing extravaganza.

Ben Davis

Published 18 September, 2013 by Ben Davis @ Econsultancy

Ben Davis is Editor at Econsultancy. He lives in Manchester, England. You can contact him at ben.davis@econsultancy.com, follow at @herrhuld or connect via LinkedIn.

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Comments (5)


Maggie Tolliday

There is probably some clever and subtle targeting here. FD are quite picky about their customers and are possibly trying to nudge those who might move their accounts now it is easier. They are different and that might be all they need communicate to those who have looked at them as an alternative. There is a lot of noise out there at the moment, as all banks are encouraging moving accounts. FD knows its customer profile and wants to attract more if the same. It's the wry smile not the lol brigade they are after.

almost 5 years ago


Simon Guest

As you rightly point out the creative idea captures the audiences attention, it's memorable and it clearly differentiates FD brand (in terms of brand personality) from their competitors.

However, in my opinion the campaign is missing a persuasive reason why I should bank with First Direct and not their competitors. Is it because FD provide the best / easiest / fastest / most accessible online banking service? Or do they give you more add-on benefits than their competitors?

As Dave Trott is fond of saying, there are 3 key elements of a successful ad - impact, communication, persuasion. Unfortunately agencies and clients start with impact and forget about the other two. What they should be thinking is what is the reason why people should buy FD and how do I communicate it impactfully?

almost 5 years ago

Ben Davis

Ben Davis, Editor at EconsultancyStaff

@Maggie @Simon

Couldn't agree more.Thanks for posting!

almost 5 years ago

Robert Yardy

Robert Yardy, Marketing Manager at MMT Digital

When I first saw the teaser videos (with the bird beatboxing) I was very interested to find out what company was behind them. In terms of brand image, these ads were great for first direct.

Then the full version of the ad came out and I was really disappointed, It just wasn't very good with absolutely no humour. The TV ad is obviously the focal point for the whole campaign so as a consequence I lost interest in all other associated marketing.

I admire the risks first direct took for this campaign but I am not sure that it is right for their industry (as you mentioned in your blog post). Also, if a company are going to go down the "crazy, makes no sense" road for advertising they have to make sure that the delivery is spot on.

See Tango circa 1990's for how to do it right!!

almost 5 years ago

Ben Davis

Ben Davis, Editor at EconsultancyStaff


I think it's easy with a fizzy drink, though obviously Tango knocked it out of the park. :-)

Like I said, I think the mere exposure and uniqueness of the ad makes it memorable, but on YouTube it's not good enough to share.

If we move to more selected viewing, watch again, skippable ads etc, perhaps this will be more of a problem. Having said that, TV is of course alive and kicking.

almost 5 years ago

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