July 8, 2012

Fidelity Bank aims high with new Wichita commercial

There’s this television commercial, “Bravely Onward. New Day.” It is an unabashed weeper.

There’s this television commercial, “Bravely Onward. New Day.” It is an unabashed weeper.

Troy Lott and other people who shot the video or edited the scenes or paid the multiple millions of dollars for producing it say that they teared up openly when they saw the first storyboards, then later in production, too.

They used four helicopters in the shoots, spent 137 hours of shooting time with the world’s fanciest cameras. They worked straight through five weekends, produced 33 hours of video … to make what so far is only one minute of commercial.

“Bravely Onward” is about us, the people of Wichita, and it says we should love ourselves. And only in the last couple of seconds, when the Fidelity Bank logo appears on the screen, do you realize who paid for it.

And they paid a lot. Including for one-minute spots on local network and cable prime-time television time, every day for months to come.

Which raises the question: Why?

• • • 

“It’s a new day in Wichita,” the narrator intones.

Music rises. In scenes that flash by in microseconds, we see, among other things, a thick yellow sunrise, lace curtains blowing in a quiet morning breeze, a boy running with a model airplane in Riverside Park, the Kellogg flyover at dawn, a shot of a runway racing underneath a plane taking off.

Images flashing of things we Wichitans see every day and never quite see in the sentimental and near-sepia tones of this commercial.

“And with each new day, we are reminded of a promise: to ourselves … to each other. To our children, our grandchildren and especially … especially to the great ones that built this city.”

Not once does it mention the recession, or Boeing walking away from the Air Capital of the World, or layoffs at the other aircraft companies, or how all our 401(k)s since 2008 shrank like ice cream on July pavement.

The secret power in the commercial, Lott says, is that it was made by Kansans and others who lost savings and lost neighbors and friends to layoffs. And so for those of us who live here — who lost savings and lost neighbors and friends to layoffs — the message hits hard — THUNK! — in the gut.

Whatever the message is, that is.

“The integrity, creativity and fortitude that defines us was purposed into our character by those who came before us,” the commercial says.

It doesn’t even say we should dump our accounts at other banks and take our money to Fidelity because of an attractive new interest rate. In fact, Cindy Claycomb, a marketing professor at Wichita State University who first saw the commercial Friday, says “it is definitely not designed to get people to come into the bank immediately, and that is usually what retail bank commercials do.”

It appears to be designed not so much to get customers in the door right away, she said, but to win them over with a courtship lasting years.

“It is our way. And our immutable, undeniable, unstoppable history of success gives us more than hope. It gives us confidence. And purpose. For our future,” the narrator tells us.

What does that mean? And how much do four helicopters and hundreds of person-hours cost?

Fidelity CEO Clark Bastian on Friday, trying to explain what’s happening here, said with wide eyes that he doesn’t know how much his relentlessly upbeat commercial cost because his key Fidelity staff members — including those sitting with him at that moment — “haven’t told me how much it cost.”

He also appeared to be surprised – taken aback, in fact – when he learned Friday that his commercial involved four helicopters.

“Really?” he said, looking askance at staff. “I knew only of one.”

He was joking with all of this, probably. But he also said that when they all started work on the commercial, there was this moment, “my deer-in-the-headlights moment,” when he realized how much this effort was going to cost. (Millions, plural, though he won’t give specifics.)

And that the cost gave him cause to wonder whether what he says is an unusual commercial and even more unusual branding effort is worth the cost.

The commercial’s last words, just as it cuts to the Fidelity logo, are: “It’s a new day in Wichita and together we move … Bravely Onward.”

Bastian said he authorized this in part because he, his son, his brother, his father and his grandfather comprise collectively four generations of bankers who love Wichita, support the community with giving and good business practices and grieve with us over our recent losses.

And he wanted to say something potent. A poem to all of us really, telling us it is a new day.

But the banker in him wonders.

About cost.

Versus benefit.

If any.

• • • 

Fidelity Bank: second-largest locally owned bank in Wichita (behind Intrust). $1.5 billion in assets. More than 400 employees. Seventeen retail locations in Wichita and Derby. Since 2004, five branches in the Oklahoma City area, with two more scheduled by 2014.

The Oklahoma branches are run by Aaron Bastian, Clark’s son, who last fall was only 29 years old. Last fall, Aaron Bastian, concerned about how the Oklahoma branches were doing, called Paul Brothers, who runs Brothers & Co., an advertising agency in Tulsa with a new branch in Wichita.

The younger Bastian said he wanted Brothers’ help creating new branding ideas for the Oklahoma branches. They were not becoming as well known in Oklahoma City as Bastian wanted. Brothers had done marketing and advertising for Fidelity for 10 years.

Paul Brothers, also his company’s creative director, is a pilot who has flown a Cirrus, a Bonanza and a Cessna. He’s never lived in Wichita but says “pilots have a unique view of the world,” and his view is that Wichita — whenever he drove through or landed here — “felt like home.” Every time he came here after the recession started, his heart ached for us.

And when Boeing announced its Wichita divorce — that hurt him bad.

“And yet I’d come to Wichita and see all these signs about new developments going in, and other developments going on … I could see that in spite of all the losses, people really were fighting to come back,” he said.

Even before Aaron Bastian called, Brothers wanted to do something for Wichita. To say something.

Not long after Bastian called, Brothers called back with a plan that he and the marketing expert Claycomb and the Bastians themselves said is unusual. He had created the idea quickly and with passion, with one of his senior people, Dave Thomas, who runs Brothers’ Fidelity account.

It started with the thought to help Aaron Bastian with Oklahoma City, but that quickly changed.

Brothers, with Aaron Bastian cheering him on, went to Wichita, to Clark Bastian, who wasn’t asking for a commercial, or a campaign, or a branding campaign. But Brothers sat down with him, with storyboards for a branding campaign he’d cooked up with Thomas called “Bravely Onward,” and presented it. In it, he and Thomas had channeled all their love for Wichita and their grief for our setbacks.

Then they had more meetings, to ask the opinions of more Fidelity managers. It was all presented with rough paper storyboards, with crude animatics and with Brothers reading stirring words from a script. It had some of the rousing words of the final edit. It had the soul of the idea.

They noticed: Around the table, with each new meeting, some of the Fidelity staff members got tears in their eyes.

“And that’s because those Fidelity people love Wichita,” Brothers said.

Clark Bastian, who was as deeply stirred as the others, told them to go do the commercial. This was not an advertising campaign, Brothers told him. “Think of it not as a campaign but as a promise to Wichita.”

Bastian told them to do it, he said, because it was a promise to business and family customers of what he wanted his bank to be. That’s worth substantial spending, he thought, though he was later taken aback somewhat by how substantial.

• • • 

With the Bastians on board, Brothers needed a creative crew of shooters and producers to make the storyboards become a commercial.

He went to Intake Studios, a Wichita outfit run by Lott. Lott and his staff listened as Brothers read the idea from the script … and saw some of the Intake people getting tears in their eyes.

In March, Lott said, as the trees in Wichita blossomed with unusually early flowers (perfect for filming), the Intake people and others — four helicopter pilots among them — went to work. Nobody got a weekend off in March; no one worked much less than 12-hour days. Lott said all the walls in the conference room at Intake were covered from floor to ceiling with Post-it notes, each containing an idea for the storyboard for the commercial and the sequels.

The Bastians weighed in at one point. Looking over the first drafts, one of the family members turned to Clark Bastian and warned him: Part of the commercial, at that point, could be interpreted as having a slight political tilt in favor of Republican political thought. No one intended it that way, but there was that possible interpretation.

The Bastians ruled that out, Clark Bastian said. They wanted all Wichitans, liberal or conservative or anything else, to see the commercial and to think it was done for them. After that, he said, the commercial makers ruthlessly scrubbed out anything that tilted politically right or left.

They made a separate commercial for Oklahoma City; they started planning for sequels of “Bravely Onward. A New Day,” drawing on the library they now had of 33 hours of footage. Its creators say we will see Bravely Onward and its sequels for months, if not years.

Brothers said his good idea would be a colossal dud if it had been made by any other people. Those Wichitans and Kansans and their non-Kansas friends at Intake and from other companies happen to love their town. They poured their souls into their work and made that commercial sing, he said.

• • • 

That didn’t necessarily relieve Clark Bastian of his anxiety about the cost.

He works in a business, after all, where people make their living literally counting pennies. So as much as he loves Wichita, he has to ask himself, he said: Will there be a return? Will business customers realize that Fidelity — with all its years of loving Wichita, supporting charities and serving people — is the place to bank?

That’s an apt question, said Claycomb, the marketing expert from WSU.

“It’s really fun to watch,” she said of the commercial. “And … it is risky, when you spend that much money.”

Branding — which is the goal of the commercial — is really hard to do well, she said. Branding is not advertising, not anything that specific and targeted. Branding is a long-term thing in which you try to repeatedly teach a population “who you are, and what you stand for. And you want your brand to set you apart from your competition.”

It takes a long time, she said. Years, perhaps, of repeating the message, and with variations so people don’t get tired of it.

“If the commercials run for just a little while, I don’t think that’s going to make much of an impression on people,” she said.

She said it was amazing to her that Brothers talked Fidelity into doing it.

“Pretty impressive, really, to sell them on the idea. And the commercial is well done.”

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