Insult The Spot: Two women chat in a supermarket aisle. The first woman asks about the second woman's pregnancy. But the second lady isn't pregnant—she's just chubby. Ahem. Uncomfortable moment. "Thank you!" blurts the first woman, in a total non sequitur. Magically, the insult is forgotten. Says the announcer, "It's amazing what a simple 'thank you' can do." In another spot, a woman wants to talk marriage with her boyfriend. "Thank you!" says the squirming boyfriend. "You've never said that to me before," the woman coos, and she forgets all about the whole marriage thing.
Proposal This new Citi campaign is atrocious. It confirms our worst suspicions: that companies like Citigroup really don't care about us at all—they just pretend to.
These ads are meant to introduce Citi's new rewards program, called the "Thank You Redemptions Network." I checked it out at Citicard.com, and it's pretty much the same as a zillion other programs. (You mean my credit card earns me "points"? Which I may then redeem for goods and services? Crazy!) What's new about this program is how it's being marketed—i.e., badly.
To be honest, I haven't loved any of the recent Citi campaigns. Many of my readers are fans of the identity theft ads, where the actors lip-synch to aurally jarring voice-overs. (For instance, a black woman's face is on-screen, but her voice is that of a geeky white kid. Implication: Some pimply teen has stolen this lady's credit card.) Yes, this is a clever way to express the nightmare that is identity theft. But I find these ads boring. The conceit was novel at first, but it never changes. And the monologues of the unseen thieves just aren't all that sharp or funny.
As for "Live Richly"—Citi's other big recent campaign—Slate has already dissed it. But allow me, if you will, to pile on. These ads feature lines like: "Hugs are on a 52-week high," and: "The best blue chips to buy are the ones you dip in salsa." Both of which—hey, don't get me wrong—are beautiful notions. In fact, this would be totally great ad copy … for a shop that sells handmade wind chimes. Not so much for a financial services firm.
And now we come to these "Thank you!" ads. The message here seems to be: We at Citi are going to flat-out ignore you (like the squirming boyfriend), or even insult you (by calling you pregnant, when you're just fat). But we're certain that you won't mind at all. Why? Because we'll say, "Thank you!"—in the form of "points" you can redeem for schlock.
At least they're honest. And perhaps that's the thinking behind the campaign. Maybe Citi thinks they can win our respect with a no-nonsense take on the situation: They're going to treat us badly—and we know it—so why not at least get some tchotchkes out of the deal?
Still, if honesty is the goal, the ads should really go one step further. For example: When the boyfriend wants to avoid the marriage talk, he should just hand his date, say, a 12-pack of Titleist golf balls (3,000 points in the Thank You Redemptions catalog). Voilà! She beams, new golf balls in hand, and totally forgets what she was upset about! Or, when the lady calls the other lady pregnant, she could simply produce a Variflex "Street Heat" helmet (2,400 points in the catalog), which is suitable for biking or rollerblading. Problem solved!
Grade: D+. We hate it when some massive corporation rogers us over, all the while saying: "Have a pleasant day. Your business is important to us. Thank you!" Here, the corporation doesn't just admit that it will do this to us, but actually advertises the fact that it will do this to us. Hey, Citibank: Thank you!