RBC adopts ‘Netflix’ approach to branded content with ‘V Morgan is Dead’

One of Canada’s biggest banks hopes a fictional dead heroine can help keep its brand alive with millennial customers.

RBC, ranked Canada’s largest bank in 2015 with $1.09 trillion in assets, launched a scripted online series called V Morgan Is Dead late last year. Lead character Violet ‘V’ Morgan, 28, dies in the first episode, then spends the next 19 trying to help other people make meaningful connections so she can rejoin life here on earth.

Not a typical marketing campaign for a massive financial institution – it seems more like something Netflix might do. But that’s because it’s aimed at the least typical of all banking customers: the millennial.

According to a 2015 Accenture survey of 4,000 bank customers in Canada and the U.S., 18 per cent of millennials had switched banks during the previous year, nearly double the rate for other age groups.

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RBC’s web series ‘V Morgan Is Dead’ features a tattoo-loving main character who seeks a second chance at life.

Besides being more fickle in their loyalty to bank brands, millennials also seek different options for financial services. Almost half of those surveyed by Accenture (48 per cent) wanted their banks to offer online or mobile video chat. By comparison, only 30 per cent rate of bank customers over age 55 were interested in video chat.

To reach tech-savvy, brand-weary millennials, RBC looked for a unique marketing strategy that ventured beyond the usual boundaries of branded content.

“With younger audiences, there’s a huge lack of trust there, especially if you’re throwing a branded message their way,” said Michelle Stewart, director of brand marketing at RBC, during a presentation in Toronto at Tuesday’s BCon Expo conference.

With millennial consumers, “you have to try to communicate in a more authentic way,” she said.

That meant developing content with a strong story line that could attract younger consumers in the channels they frequent the most, then luring them back on a regular basis.

“Everything we do (has) cliffhangers in every episode,” said Stewart’s co-presenter Kaaren Whitney-Vernon. She’s the CEO of Shift2, the agency that helped produce V Morgan Is Dead.

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Stewart: Focus on storytelling, not typical hard selling.

New episodes of the show were posted on Youtube every Thursday at 5 p.m. ET. The series was also promoted via blogs, quizzes and polls on its own website as well as on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Periscope and Superwoman, the Youtube channel of vlogging star Lilly Singh. Created and hosted by the 27-year-old Torontonian, Superwoman boasts 8.3 million subscribers and has received more than 1 billion views since 2010.

To avoid a hard sell that might push viewers away, there was no mention of RBC – not even its logo – as the source and sponsor of V Morgan Is Dead until the 12th episode.

Stewart said RBC wanted to build a fan base for the show first – through “engaging storylines and characters” – before introducing the bank or its brand in any way.

“People want to be entertained. They don’t want to be sold to,” she said.

The first episode of V Morgan, from RBC.

Since the 20-part series was rolled out online over three or four months, RBC and Shift2 had time to do brain scans of certain test viewers and track their responses to various episodes. They then made some adjustments to the show’s content based on those results.

The web series produced 1.9 million impressions overall. One particular video drew more than 30,000 engagements when viewers were asked to post their own comments and personal stories following that episode. In post-campaign research, 55 per cent of the show’s viewers said they “would definitely” want more information about RBC vs. just 43 per cent of non-viewers.

Stewart and Whitney-Vernon hinted that they’re already looking toward a second season of V Morgan Is Dead.

While the show may have a future, many bank bosses aren’t convinced the same is true for branch-based banking. In a global poll of 203 senior bank executives released by the Economist earlier this month, almost half (49 per cent) said they believe the bricks-and-mortar model will be soon be dead – and unlike V, chances are there’s little chance of a resurrection.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada
Christine Wong
Christine Wonghttp://www.itbusiness.ca
Christine Wong has been an on-air reporter for a national daily show on Rogers TV and at High Tech TV, a weekly news magazine on CTV's Ottawa affiliate. She was also an associate producer at Report On Business Television (now called BNN) and CBC's The Hour With George Stroumboulopoulos. As an associate producer at Slice TV, she helped launch two national daily talk shows, The Mom Show and Three Takes. Recently, she was a Staff Writer at ITBusiness.ca and is now a freelance contributor.

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