Not long ago, I wrote about a surprisingly creative ad from a Canadian fintech brand that looked more like a new indie flick trailer than a commercial for financial services. Turns out, the ad will also be Wealthsimple's Super Bowl introduction to American millennials—in key markets like Austin, Boston, and Seattle—announcing the Toronto-based company's expansion into the U.S.
The company has been making waves north of the border for a while, but has recently set up a New York City office in Soho, and the plan to roll out its product through a carefully crafted brand strategy in the U.S. started taking shape in early 2016. Both chief product officer Rudy Adler and executive creative director Mike Giepert are alumni of Wieden+Kennedy Portland, the creative agency juggernaut behind Nike, and a slew of other iconic campaigns for decades.
Wealthsimple's approach to its brand and marketing isn't exactly common in banking—with ads that focus on emotion and humor over product descriptions, and it's got an online magazine with articles like "When Am I Too Old To Ask My Parents For Money?" and "Money Diaries" from creative young people like musicians, performers, and even Kylie Jenner. It also self-published a children's book (!) around investing. The brand just hired former GQ editorial director Devin Friedman as its lead content guy.
Adler says they found success in Canada last year with the brand's first ad campaign. Wealthsimple's average user is 29 years old and, contrary to the millennial cliche, quite responsible. The goal is to talk to young people with respect for their intelligence and judgment. Executive creative director Giepert says the biggest challenge in doing that is making work that doesn’t feel like old rich guys trying to "get" young people.
"We happen to be millennials who (kinda) have their financial shit together and we have a deep aversion to a lot of misleading financial industry marketing," says Giepert. "We want this to be a zero bullshit proposition for people—and that goes into every aspect of what we do. Essentially we are making work that will help our friends and families be informed about what we think is one of the smartest things you can do with your money."
Adler says the company's biggest opportunity from a marketing perspective is to just be a brand that comes across as actually run by humans. "Feeling like a company run for and by smart, sensible 2017 human beings," he says. "A lot of the traditional financial companies have brands that are essentially invisible to young people. They might have functional products, but they feel like they were made by robots with cufflinks. We want to build a brand that people will identify with, fall in love with—not just a tool they’ll use. And so far we’re seeing that happening. Now our goal is to accelerate. But you probably guessed that. We’re a tech company after all."
Noble brand goals all, but it doesn't quite explain why a couple of ad guys from Wieden+Kennedy would join a new Canadian start-up. But Giepert says it was that blank slate that was the ultimate draw. "We see ourselves as a great, miniature creative shop located in an office in Soho," says Giepert. "Wieden was built from scratch alongside Nike. Both companies fed off each other and both have become iconic for it. We’ve spent time trying to move the needle for a lot of giant brands, but we’re a little more excited to build a little brand with huge potential from scratch. That’s the single biggest opportunity and challenge."
Part of that means venturing beyond what we've come to expect not just from financial services brands, but tech companies, too. Giepert says that part of adding talent like Friedman is in the aim to be more than just another app. "We’re interested in exploring how the brand extends into the physical world—events, physical spaces, packaging design," he says. "When the majority of your interaction with clients happens online, you start to crave something tactile. We want to make content, whether it’s stories for our magazines, or videos, or even mandatory form letters for our clients, that’s human, demystifying, smart and beautiful. Just like we designed our product to be."