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Going to the Future with MRM//McCann and Santander's Grand Prix-Winning Campaign

Agency CCO and ex-ECD on a campaign for a bank brand that millennials went out of their way to watch

Going to the Future with MRM//McCann and Santander's Grand Prix-Winning Campaign

If there’s one sector that’s known for making un-sexy advertising it’s banking. What’s more, thanks to the 2008 economic crisis that swept the world and still lingers, many people, especially young people, have a deep distrust of banks. Add to that millennials’ aversion to advertising and any agency has quite the job on their hands in creating a campaign for a bank aimed at young people. 

But the folk at MRM//McCann Madrid pulled it off to startling effect, with incredible results for their client Santander and an Entertainment Lions Grand Prix from this year's Cannes to boot. The centrepiece of the campaign is a 17-minute sci-fi film that doesn’t feature the brand’s logo once – but in there is much more to this campaign than that. 

LBB’s Addison Capper spoke with MRM//McCann Madrid CCO Miguel Bemfica and the agency’s ex-ECD (who worked on the campaign and was in Cannes to collect the award with the team) Jesús Revuelta to find out more about this Lion-conquering campaign. 

Check out the trailer below and the full film at the bottom of the page.




LBB> Congratulations! Entertainment Lions jury president P.J. Pereira said the reason for the win was because it was a piece of branded content that was actually as good as regular entertainment. So - how did you ensure that was the case, and that you’d keep viewers for the full 17 minutes? 

MB> We work in an agency that is data-driven, with social media, research and content at its heart. All of these things paid off during this project because we weren’t just creating a piece of content. When we had the first idea at the planning stage, we said straight away that we needed to have the best director - so we worked hand-in-hand with one of the best directors in Spain, Kike Maíllo. When this guy joined the project we had the original idea of questioning the value of money and making people question if they’d rather have experiences or money. But we were humble enough to call in specialists like Kike to work side-by-side with us and help build that idea in a way that feels like a piece of entertainment, not just a long spot. The main problem with most of those ideas is that people just create a longer ad rather than a proper piece of content. If our audience is spending time on Netflix, our work should be crafted, scripted and cast as good as that. The actress, Adriana Ugarte, is actually the star of the latest Almodóvar film. It was amazing when she joined us because we knew it would create a lot of buzz, but also because she would be able to deliver the story to the level needed. 

We told the client that we’d make the most out of their production money by making it a proper story with a proper message, but almost unbranded. There is no logo during the film, but we are talking about money and experience the whole time - and that gets the message across. 

I spoke with some jury members and they all said that there was no single 'main' reason that this campaign won the Grand Prix - it was more that there were so many boxes that we ticked - the script, the storytelling, the craft, the fact that the story is told by a female. 

JR> First of all, with an idea that could work even for a full-length film, we tested a synopsis and the storyboard of a trailer with three different top film directors from Spain and all three told us it would be really easy to build a feature film from it.

The second challenge - in terms of interest and effectiveness - was that we knew more people would watch the trailer than the movie. So to make it impactful, we had to ensure that those who only viewed the trailer understood the point that the bank and the 1|2|3 Smart Account wanted to get across: “This is an account that makes you think: What’s worth more, money or experiences?” I mean, the trailer should work as a TV commercial with a clear message - or a moral - in that sense, but much more appealingly. That’s why it was really important to build a story beyond the story: a plot that captivates your attention until the end, a plot which has nothing to do with the moral but exists just because we needed an unanswered question to entice you for every second. (I won’t mention what it is because it would be a spoiler, but once you see it, it’s obvious what I’m referring to). I think the audience remains uncomfortable thinking, “what’s happening to her?” And later… “where is her husband?” 

And all of that is the result of a daily teamwork process between the director and the agency’s creative team, which started the day we showed him the synopsis and ended at the premiere.

Miguel in Cannes with the Grand Prix

LBB> A 17-minute sci-fi film is a bold marketing move for any brand, but perhaps more so for a bank. Can you give us some insight into how you sold this idea to the client and why they were keen to make it happen? 

MB> This is not just a film, it’s more of an entertainment strategy. We have very demanding consumers so we wanted to send our message across a lot of disciplines. But the main aim was for the audience to be entertained by the message. We did some initial research and discovered that millennials in Spain are not watching TV and are more into YouTube channels. We then discovered the most viewed film in Spain was a sci-fi film, so this was what first made us think about what this project could be and the easiest way to get the group’s attention. In a way, this strategy that we used is one that has less risk - if we launched something on TV aimed at millennials, there is a big risk that no one will listen. 

From the very beginning we worked hand-in-hand with our client. We learned together about how the audience behaved, what the audience wanted and also on the development of the product. The 1|2|3 Smart account is something that we developed together with the client. So everything is tailor-made for this audience.

JR> We started the presentation explaining to the client, using sci-fi examples, that entertainment lets you explain complex points of view in simple and digestible ways. I remember myself presenting at the typical long table, surrounded by people with red ties and elegant dresses (and a couple of the team's young and bold creatives were in the room). They didn’t have to like the film or the story because they were not millennials, but despite their ties they all have valuable experiences.

So we prepared the presentation with time in advance: days before, the account team did some research to find out the personal experiences of Rami Aboukhair, the Country Head of Santander in Spain. During the presentation, just before we showed him the storyboard of the trailer, I reminded him of that personal moment and then asked him, “would you sell it to me?” He said “no” right away. “What if I paid you 250,000€ for it?” He said, now smiling, “no”. “What if I paid you 10 million?” He barely hesitated for a second and, again, said “no”. So I presented the title of the film: “Beyond Money”, the synopsis, the trailer and some more product-centric pieces with the same concept. He rapidly understood that it was not about saying money isn’t important, but to find a balance between money and experiences. And he totally bought it.

Jesus in Cannes with the Grand Prix

LBB> How does working in this way alter your thinking? The entertainment is, in a way, more important than the actual brand - how did you channel that, but still make the brand sing? 

JR> I think it would be really difficult to build a story if you have nothing to tell. But we had something – an interesting strategic point of view that was relevant and new, especially coming from a bank. It was appropriate for a bank to tell a story about the balance of money with experiences. 

I think the challenges in entertainment are firstly to be interesting, relevant and secondly to be pertinent. If you have both you won’t need to force the brand or product presence. I’ve seen films in which the brand appears only once and you feel it’s disturbing, and films in which the product is present all the time and you don’t feel it. 

In Beyond Money, what works is that the brand presence lives not just physically in the objects, but especially in the moral and that allows you to introduce it into the main communication expression of the film: the title. 

The trailer is watched more than the movie, and the poster is seen more than the trailer, so in terms of effectiveness, you have to think about the way every impact communicates: from a quick view of the poster, right up to the full experience of watching 17 minutes.



LBB> In the case study, you mention that millennials have suffered more in Spain than anywhere else - can you elaborate on this please? 

MB> Beyond Money is a campaign aimed at millennials, and they represent 40% of the working population in Spain. The banks are not perceived as offering anything to millennials. 71% of millennials said that they’d rather go to the dentist instead of spending time with communications from a bank. This negative mindset is a side product of the country’s deep economic crisis. We had to be very careful when speaking to these people. If you watch the case study film, there’s one guy that says he likes the film but it screws him up that it’s made by a bank. He’s almost saying that if he knew it was from a bank before, he wouldn’t have engaged with it. The insight behind this is that they don’t care as much about money as they do experiences.

JR> We say they’ve suffered the Spanish crisis more than anyone. During the crisis, youth unemployment was close to 50%. That’s a real drama. And, according to official data, there is only one entity Spanish people trust as little as politicians: the banks. But they’re still a key target for banks as they will make up approximately 75% of the workforce by 2025.

The challenge was to sell a bank account to a target that doesn’t want to listen to banks. Even though the product we designed together is not just about money (it’s about access to experiences too), Santander would have probably been ignored and the message wouldn’t be credible if we’d have just made a TV commercial.

The Beyond Money premiere

LBB> Talk us through the inspiration behind the plot of people selling their memories? 

JR> The genre of sci-fi let us separate a little bit from present reality to talk about present reality, so it’s probably tearing down some barriers and prejudices about banks.

There are so many films where memories are extracted or inserted: Total Recall, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, etc. But we didn’t just study films about memories. We also studied other sci-fi films in which they trade in different ways: for example, In Time in which they change time for money. We saw thrillers with a message and which starred women, such as Hunger Games or Divergent, and that gave us clues on how to attract young people. Even films that mix sci-fi with emotional stories, such as The Arrival, seemed to attract men and women equally. 

As Kirby Ferguson says in the ‘Everything is a Remix’ series, “Creativity isn’t magic” – it is a process of combining existing materials to which you apply a new element that transforms everything.

LBB> Where did you look for inspiration for the overall themes and art direction? Obviously it’s science fiction, but were there any specifics that you really looked to? 

MB> A lot of this we left to the director and the DOP, Alex Catalán - he is one of the best DOPs in Spain. The idea was that it was set in the future, but not the distant future. That’s why if you look at the car, it’s actually a car from the ’50s, but it’s so cool that it could be cool 50 years from now. It was shot in Barcelona in some locations that have never been used before, and that gives the film its swagger.

JR> Besides the films I said before, Kike Maíllo – who I think is a Spanish filmmaker most capable with sci-fi – thought that there were practical and interesting visual solutions within ‘Ex-Machina’ (2015), such as living in the countryside, that seemed perfect.

Dani Requena, the visual designer at the agency, also pointed out interesting references for the interfaces: one of them was Microsoft: Productivity Future Vision. He also proposed the use of the glitch and showed us a reference from The Story of Wikileaks by Nat Geo. It’s funny because we had already produced Beyond Money (2017) and Dani and I went together to the cinema to watch ‘Ghost in the Shell’ and they were using the same resource. Glitch art has been on fire these last few months.

And of course, all of us in the team are Black Mirror fans.

LBB> How was it for you, as a creative, to work on a long form piece of content like this? 

MB> The world is changing a lot, our profession is changing a lot. For me, to work on this was a big pleasure. You go to Cannes each year and hear about the film festival that is one month before ours, and I always envy those guys. This is the first time that I’ve ever been able to work on a script that was 17 minutes and 17 pages. I’ve done a lot of storytelling lessons too. But there’s nothing like living the daily life of putting together a long format film to show just how this industry is changing. We need to prove ourselves in every skill. 

I come from a generation of working on TV, press and radio, and little by little we began to work on digital and content. Moving forward to entertainment is such an achievement. Now that I’ve worked on something cool I’d like to stay around a bit longer!

JR> It was an experience I’d never sell!

I was professionally educated at DoubleYou, an independent digital and integrated agency with a non-interruption culture, and I have been trying to transmit this concept in every team I’ve been a part of. I think this project has been the purest in this sense: there have even been some people who paid to watch the film in 14 cinemas, and thousands of millennials decided to go to bank branches – most of them for the first time in their lives – to watch an ad! That’s probably the most you can aspire to in our job. 

Instead of advertising pursuing the people, we made people pursue advertising. I have felt fulfilled from the strategic part right up to the results. 


LBB> The Entertainment Lions and the work that’s submitted to that category is a sector of advertising that agencies and brands are still getting to grips with - what does the industry need to do to better harness the opportunities it offers? Is it a case of educating our clients better? 

JR> We need to educate our clients, but we also need to educate ourselves and find a way to make the branded entertainment business profitable. The time and talent invested in these kinds of projects is much more, but so is the generated attention and interest. 

The balance of investment between media and production changes: instead of 80% media and 20% production, in branded entertainment it may be 60/40 or even more because this 40% in production is what’s actually creating the audience – a voluntary, non-interrupted audience. And we should understand that this is the new way to buy their time. 

People have very cheap access to Netflix, HBO, Spotify or they can simply use an iPad, an iPhone, or an adblocker to completely avoid all ads. They have paid to be owners of their time. So branded entertainment shouldn’t be the future: this is already happening in 2017. 

The advertising industry talks a lot about Silicon Valley versus Madison Avenue, but I think we are forgetting Hollywood. We, the creatives, just need to think like strategists of Madison Avenue, and as entertainers of Hollywood.