The future is funny, Sarut Yungcharoen, group creative director tells LBB’s Laura Swinton about the deliriously silly work for bank First Choice
When it comes to new technology, adland has a tendency to lean in with breathless sincerity and credulity. But Leo Burnett Thailand and bank First Choice have taken an altogether more human route – to laugh at the absurdity of this transitional age where we find ourselves trapped between the promise of a limitless, virtual future and, well the rather more dull reality of dodgy internet and budget constraints.
Back in January they launched ‘Metaverrrrrr’, a spot that sees a tech-obsessed marketing department flounder as they attempt to create a Metaverse marketing campaign that grows increasingly ludicrous. It came on the tails of the launch of an NFT credit card art collaboration that was packed with maximalist, humourous imagery.
Later, the team took on the surge of internet shopping by conjouring up a capricious, futuristic queen who has gone power mad as ecommerce caters to her every whim – only to find her dictator-level grip on her minions to slip as she maxes out her cards. The otherworldy ‘Mafia of Digital World’ campaign brings the promise and reality of the digital age crashing together with lashings of outlandish, sci-fi art direction, with exuberant direction from filmmaker Bhakpong Skonvitayanon.
So what is it about the current phase of tech hype and the cutting edge of the digital age that makes it such a rich source of comedy? For Sarut Yungcharoen, group creative director at Leo Burnett Thailand, these new developments are a core talking point for their target audience of young Gen Z Thai people. But people are also laughing and joking about these new phenomena too.
“The digital world has opened up radically new, immersive, imaginary worlds, which we can use as a powerful tool to develop our storytelling,” he says. “First Choice is actively targeting younger generations who are adopting new technologies – it is a core business objective for the brand. And what is this audience talking about? NFTs, the metaverse, augmented worlds, the future…. Thai people also love humour, so we want to explore these trends, but make people laugh along the way.”
From a brand perspective, this combination of comedy and up-to-the-minute techy discourse was a strategic choice – First Choice is keen to become relevant with younger demographics. Young people in Thailand, like most markets around the world, are experiencing financial pressure, but approaching that with a sense of wry, self-aware humour feels the most relevant tack to take.
“The reason we combined technology and comedy is that we are trying to uplift First Choice’s brand image by targeting younger generations, whose lifestyle is intertwined with the digital world. Having a sense of humour and a story which relates to their daily life is an important key to attracting Thai youngsters in this era – comedy makes financial communications more accessible to them,” explains Sarut.
“Our research showed that Thai people feel so stressed about their finances in this era. We want to relieve their stress by being funny and relevant. We decided to explore aspects of the digital world, and turn them into comedy.”
This approach also serves the brand longer term. It allows the brand to explore and learn about the metaverse and NFTs and cryptocurrency, to figure out how the business might evolve as tech influences the financial sector. It also allows them to show customers that they are thinking about the future. But it does all that while also being entertaining and recognising the sillier side of the hype cycle.
“The brand's target market is already really into the digital world. First Choice wants to be seen as the ‘first choice’ in a futuristic metaverse world, but it also wants people to enjoy the First Choice brand. The financial industry is going through a lot of rapid changes with virtual and digital banking. It means we need to think outside the box and break from the status quo, and we’re getting amazingly great feedback from customers.”
It's a platform that seems to be working well. The Metaverrrrrrr spot has had 5.3 million views on YouTube and 4 million on Facebook – and when the campaign broke it found an enthusiastic audience in the international industry trade press.
The campaign has become something of a meme in Thailand too. Surat reckons the success is due to a mix of universal insights and a talented director who pushed the idea to the max. “The Metaverrrrrrr film is inspired by insights into working life and turns these insights into comedy. These insights are relatable to people all around the globe because everyone has clients, right? We also worked with one of the best directors in Thailand, Wuthisak Anarnkaporn, who had some ideas to make it even funnier. Now, there’s even a Metaverrrrrr meme.”
Talking of universal insights, the delirious insanity of the follow-up campaign may give it the appearance of a campy ‘80s sci-fi movie – but it’s rooted in an insight around online shopping that many of us can relate to. “We unearthed ‘Mafia of the Digital World’ from the insight that something happens between the brain and heart of a person who goes online shopping. The brain and heart fight against each other to stop you from buying or not. We started with this insight, and it inspired a whole script.”
The team explored attitudes and behaviours of younger Thai people around digital lifestyles.
“We started with the insight that young generations in Thailand prefer to live their life on digital platforms, especially their shopping lifestyle. The product is the XU digital credit card, so creating a non-existent endless digital world where they can control everything at their fingertips seemed like fun,” says Surat.
While the copywriting and comedic skill of actors and director drive the heart of the campaigns, it’s the bold, clashing art direction and styling that really elevates the brand above the rest of the sector. There’s a mix of popular Tiktok aesthetics, from ‘90s fashion to maximalism, and the overall blend of visual ideas helps First Choice appear more fun than your typical bank brand.
“Both spots have different inspirations. For instance, Metaverrrrrrr developed from the ideal Metaverse with a dose of fun and unexpectedness to attract the young generation. For the Mafia spot, we tried to bring out the fierce, cool aspects of the digital world and also add a metallic element to be one of the charms, creating a different digital world for everyone.”
Inevitably, working on a campaign like this has made Surat consider not only the future or technology or other people’s behaviours in the digital sphere, but he and the team have also been reflecting on their own experiences and habits. But as creatives, the most exciting revelation is the just how much comedy fodder the future holds.
“Typically, we think about the digital world endlessly - and even more, after we have been working on these ads,” says Surat. “There are so many fun and interesting aspects to tap into. We believe that there is going to be more fun and craziness in the upcoming future for sure.”