Did Capital One Just ‘Blow Up’ Its Marketing?
What can a balloon teach us about digital marketing?
I asked myself this question after observing a marketing tactic that, at first, seemed unusual and trite. Yet, after thinking about it more deeply, it seemed instructive, or at the very least, fodder for healthy marketing debate.
This May Seem Like Bad Marketing
One morning, while commuting to work and exiting Penn Station in New York City, I noticed a man walking around with an oversized balloon — known as a Street Blimp in marketing terms — on which the Capital One logo was displayed.
As a digital marketer and growth hacker, I pay little mind to old-school tactics such as this. So, my initial thought landed somewhere between a scoff and a dismissal. It seemed bizarre to have a man holding a balloon, seemingly trying to get the attention of passersby during the morning rush hour.
After all, what would a balloon do to drive business for Capital One? And how would they be able to tell whether it did or not?
We all know that digital marketing offers tremendous advantages over traditional marketing, including cost-efficiency, measurability, flexibility, testability and speed. Digital marketing is the most effective and efficient means for a marketer to accomplish his or her goals, whether it’s brand awareness, lead generation, nurturing, retention, etc.
Thus, it should be no surprise that, per this GetResponse survey, 70 percent of SMBs increased their digital marketing budgets last year. Furthermore, according to Vital, “many companies — especially those with more than $5 billion in revenue — are abandoning the 10 percent (of revenue) rule in favor of bigger budgets, with a heavy focus on digital marketing.”
The tenets of digital marketing say that, in order to be effective, marketing has to be measured, the path to attribution should be clear, and ROI has to be delivered. In addition, it has to be executed at scale. Obviously, this balloon accomplished none of these things for Capital One.
However, there was another voice inside me that said ‘hold on’. Before dismissing this tactic as cheesy and ineffective, another voice within nudged me to look at the other side. Partly because I was giggling inside, in a fun/sincere way, at seeing this man with the balloon in his hand.
Let's Look at the Other Side
For the spirit of debate, allow me to play devil’s advocate and look at what benefits this isolated balloon tactic may have accomplished (acknowledging that we can’t directly measure this, per se):
Created Brand Association of ‘Fun’
Balloons are associated with having fun and good times. As kids, we loved playing with them. As adults, we use them as decor for our parties. So, at a basic level, combining Capital One’s logo with a balloon has the potential to associate the emotion of ‘fun’ with its brand
Furthermore, and this may be more of a coincidence, the theme of ‘fun’ seems to be on-brand with Capital One’s brand personality. Judging by their cheeky, sarcastic TV spots, which feature Samuel L. Jackson and Jennifer Garner playing almost satirical roles, Capital One has tied its branding to the theme of ‘fun’ more than possibly any other bank.
Leveraged a Live ‘Experience’
Now, I’m not a scientist, so I can’t really tell you if an emotion experienced in-person creates a more powerful feeling vs. that same emotion experienced via a digital medium. But I am pretty intuitive, and I’m willing to bet that an in-person experience leaves a more powerful impression and creates a stronger bond.
As an example, attending a concert by a band you love will create a much richer experience than merely watching that concert on your phone. Similarly, the balloon tactic, though shallow, is a "live" experience nonetheless.
Increased Local Awareness, Affinity and Retention
I, for one, have a bank account at Capital One (technically, it’s an online-only account called Capital One 360, but it entitles me to use any Capital One ATM). Thus, I was pleasantly surprised to learn, via my balloon-toting friend, that there is a Capital One branch near to Penn Station, which I travel through during my daily commute. I was previously unaware of this.
Knowing this may help me in the future, when I need to visit a Capital One ATM or make a bank transaction while commuting. This is added convenience, which I value. It makes me feel like I made the right choice in banking with Capital One, which can potentially lead to enhanced affinity for the brand. It can also improve retention. That’s because switching banks has just become less attractive for me, now that it would mean giving up the convenience of having an ATM accessible during my commute.
Trying to create this same awareness through digital would have been much harder to accomplish. Sure, Capital One can try running a mobile, geofenced campaign to have an SMS triggered when I’m walking near that same branch, but campaigns like these are challenging to execute due to the fact customers are already inundated with marketing texts.
Let's Ask Around
Intrigued at seeing this man with the balloon, I snapped a photo of him holding said Street Blimp and resolved to post it on LinkedIn because I was curious what others would say.
My LinkedIn post about this topic was merely a photo of the man with the balloon and the text, “This is an example of great marketing. Agree or disagree (and why).” The post generated a healthy 2,000+ views and some interesting comments. The digital marketers immediately chimed in with valid, yet predictable, responses. One said “I'd imagine many busy people won't even see this because they are heads down in their phones.”
Another digital marketer said, “For this to qualify as marketing, it would have to somehow sway my decision-making towards spending or brand choice as a consumer. And a logo on a balloon certainly isn't going to influence my banking decision in any way.”
On the other side of the debate, an event marketer said “Unique = Memorable. #Experiential is awesome 10 years ago, and today!” A 3D chalk artist added “The team behind C1 is sharp. C1 is sharp. I think there is a level of trust that allows for successful creative activations.”
I also chimed in and added support for both views. The digital marketer in me perceived this marketing effort as a wasteful, old-school tactic with little impact. The practical, traditional marketer in me appreciated the simplicity, fun feeling and emotional connection this tactic attempted to create in a ‘live’, offline context.
In conclusion, the goal of exposing this tactic was to create some healthy debate around the pros and cons of a marketing effort, which seemed unusual and outdated, as a way of presenting another perspective to today’s marketing conversation, which is highly dominated by digital.
With so much emphasis and investment in tactics like optimizing search engine marketing, buying digital ad units, posting on social media, blogging and emailing, are we, as marketers, missing tactics that are more traditional, yet still beneficial?
This is something that we, as marketers, may want to think about, and even debate, more closely.
In the case of Capital One, it clearly felt that adding a balloon as a tactic wasn’t going to ‘blow up’ its marketing.