BAI Managing Editor Lou Carlozo
Lou Carlozo Dec 22, 2016

Funny money: In new ads, Citi spokesgirl puts secretive adults on the spot

So what would you do to avoid sharing your financial details? Floss your teeth with a shoelace? Wear moose antlers to a tuxedo formal? Before you plumb the depths of your desperation, you might want to check out Citi's latest marketing campaign, where otherwise composed adults can't face the truth-or-dare challenges of a cheeky 12-year-old British girl.

Actress Millie Bobby Brown (who stars in the Netflix science-fiction horror series “Stranger Things”) leads a posse of adolescents who ask innocent questions in a series of four ads. The opening query in one minute-long spot — now past the million-view mark on YouTube — is rhetorical, and the seeming sentiment of many a financial advisor: "A lot of people don't want to face anything that has to do with money. I don't get it. Is money really that scary?"

But things get goofy when she boards a subway train and strikes up a friendly chat with two Millennials who've been dating for eight months. She asks the guy: "Would you rather tell her how much debt you have, or ... lick the subway pole?"

The answer, you might say, is on the tip of his tongue.

The stakes escalate with each encounter, though the ads all end with a sober on-screen message:  "MONEY’S TOUGH. LET’S FACE IT." There's also a web address given, citi.com/letsfacemoney, where you can find features such as Kate Ashford's article, "The Science Behind the Last Taboo." (Indeed, the part of the brain that avoids a simple financial disclosure must be a pretty mysterious place.)

Another ad in the series, which does not feature Brown, shows a montage of avoidants. With ominous classical music in the background, one woman face plants in a chocolate cake and refuses to surface; another pours a can of garbage on her head;  two old men squat in a kiddie pool full of slimy fish. Of the 2.7 million viewers, it’s impossible to say how many consider themselves kindred spirits to the actors playing chicken.

The “Money’s Tough” campaign also features nine mini-commentaries where experts weigh in from compelling angles. Michael Norton, a business administration professor at Harvard Business School, discusses “Why we don’t buy what makes us happy.” He makes this point, among others: “[We] tend to buy stuff that doesn’t matter instead of things that are meaningful.”

Norton also highlights a question people fail to answer — not so much truth or dare as truth or consequences:  “Are you asking other people for advice about how to use your money — or are you lost in your head buying silly things for yourself all the time?”

Speaking of silly, Brown also stars in a 30-second spot that has amassed close to 3 million YouTube views, with thumbs up ratings trumping thumbs down by 3 to 1. Here, she greets a pair of dignified, smartly dressed working women who are neighbors.  She inquires, “Would you each share what you paid for your apartment, or … let us dress you for work?”

Awkward and silent, the ladies defer and Millie gets the honors. Millie’s choice of wardrobe?  See for yourself.

Meanwhile, who knows? Behind every professional finance worker there’s a personal finance story—so maybe in a later ad, one of Brown’s reluctant yuppies will work a Citi branch teller window decked head to toe in yellow fuzz.

Lou Carlozo is the managing editor at BAI.

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