Brand: Citi Bike
Category: Financial Services, Insurance
Agency: Publicis Kaplan Thaler
Country: United States
The communications challenge for Citi in 2013 could be summed up in four words: Win Back New York. The brand had to win back the hearts and minds of New Yorkers, and to reverse -- or at least stabilize -- the long-term decline in brand health as the first step to eventually winning back their wallets. But there was no way a typical corporate ad campaign would overcome the huge trust barrier Citi faced. The brand believed that, instead, it needed to allow New Yorkers to experience its brand essence of Progress.
It turned out that in 2012, New York City approached Citi and other brands with a big ask. Mayor Michael Bloomberg had a vision of bringing a bike share program to New York -- but to get the program off the ground without tapping taxpayer dollars, he needed $41 million in seed money over five years. Citi got the job, and Citi Bike became a reality. In addition to its brand appearing on the bikes and bike stands, Citi and its agency launched not just the program, but a campaign, "Unlock New York" that included highly interactive features that introduced New Yorkers, not just to Citi Bike but to New York itself.
Among other factors, the 2008 global financial meltdown had hit Citi particularly hard. While all banks experienced damage to their reputaitons, the press singled Citi out as the poster child for banks “too big to fail” and its brand health reflected it. Cit's problems were worst in New York, where brand health plummeted 37 percent between 2008 and 2012, while Citi’s competitors fell only 8 percent on average. Competitors saw their brands rally in the following years, but Citi did not. Despite an increase in media spend, it ended 2012 last among the top six banks in New York City in brand health.
Competitors sensed the brand’s strength and reputation in New York City was weakening, and as the economy rallied, they moved aggressively. TD Bank increased branch presence by over 10 percent in NYC from 2010-2012, and Chase added 338 new branches. But for Citi, to lose New York would be to lose the U.S. It simply had to reverse its fortunes. It needed a silver bullet and believed the answer lay in returning to its roots, to the days when the brand stood for enabling Progress.
Being the sponsor of Citi Bike was part of the brand's battle to win back New York, which would begin stabilizing or reversing its long-term brand health decline. The brand added a New York-specific module to its national tracker and set a goal of 5 percent uplift in the first quarter for brand preference, positive impression of Citi, image of Citi as a brand that’s passionate about enabling progress, and finally, intent to acquire a Citi product. Given Citi's prolonged brand issues, this was aggressive.
Success hinged on New Yorkers recognizing Citi as the sponsor of the bike share program. The goal was to meet or exceed the benchmark set by Barclays, sponsor of London’s bike share, with 40 percent brand linkage, 12 months after launch. The primary objectives were to link Citi to the bike share program and to get people riding. The brand set a goal with NYC Bike Share, LLC of 2.5 rides per bike per day for the program, and also targeted 6,000 annual members one month after launch. A secondary objective was card and bank business growth. Though Citi didn’t dare hope for business results in year one, it planned to keep an eye on new credit card and bank accounts opened in New York compared to its historical trend both in the city and in the rest of the country.
The target was affluent, ambitious, driven, and culturally savvy New Yorkers, ages 18 - 34, who are always looking for something interesting to do, to see, to share, for deals, new places to eat, to visit, to recreate. They wanted to be seen as the person who has New York knowledge and experiences and who has seen parts of New York’s their friends haven’t.
Citi agency Publicis Kaplan Thaler worked on many different aspects of the program – including naming it Citi Bike. The happy accident of the double entendre allowed Citi to place the brand front and center, without it seeming gratuitous. Citi had the right to design the bike graphics, and selected its distinctive Citi blue with a grid overlay inspired by New York City’s grid pattern.
The website and mobile app, launched simultaneously, were crucial to getting riders on the road. The website -- citibikenyc.com -- introduced the bike, pricing, and safety advice, as well as allowing New Yorkers to purchase their annual membership key fob to use to “Unlock New York.” The app became riders’ mobile key to unlocking the city, featuring station locations and bike availability, as well as bike-friendly routes from A to B. Annual members only have 45 minutes per ride, so a timer was built in to help them avoid late fees. Reviews on restaurants and events from The New York Times were also featured, so every journey would be filled with inspiration and new ways to unlock New York.
There was also an out-of-home teaser campaign. Citi Bike had faced a number of setbacks to launch, including Hurricane Sandy submerging the bikes in a Brooklyn warehouse. The campaign sought to acknowledge that the program had setbacks while also teasing the idea of “Unlock New York.” Headlines included “Get ready to unlock NYC. The bikes are coming very soon. Seriously.”
New Yorkers had watched patiently as the initial 5400 bikes were installed in 330 stations across the city. On May 27, 2013, annual members got their chance to ride, and the program was opened up to all New Yorkers on June 2 at an event in the heart of Manhattan, together with the NYC Department of Transportation and NYC Bike Share, LLC. The event helped New Yorkers get ready to experience their city in a whole new way with safety tips, an urban obstacle course, sign-up kiosks and ice cream and hot dogs - New Yorkers’ summer snacks of choice.
The 330 stations were used to spread a message not about Citi products, but about the benefits of the Citi Bike experience, localizing the message on each of the placements. Some turned the ordinary everyday trip from A to B into a whimsical trip of discovery of that particular neighborhood. For instance, a poster on Wall Street said: “Unlock a bike. Head down to Battery Park. Check out the sculptures. Gaze up at One World Trade Center. Wander the Canyons. Watch Out for Bull Crossing. Unlock New York.” In some cases, bikes would unlock new routes, like “The Smart Way to Dumbo.”
The entire Citi Bike program had to be easy to use, or it would never be truly embraced. It needed a simple way to let riders find bikes and stations, no matter where they were. The Citi Bike Mobile App provided up-to-the-minute access to the nearest docking stations and number of available bikes.
Turn-by-turn directions allowed riders to travel anywhere in the city. Once a rider had unlocked a bike, who better to help he or she unlock the city than The New York Times? Recommendations from its section, The Scoop, helped people discover out-of-the-way cafes and bistros that could be saved to favorites and shared with friends.
The program drove brand health measures in New York to the highest levels since 2008.
Pre-launch, the skeptics were out in force, led by The New York Post with headlines like “Citi Bike Heading for a Fall.” But the people soon overruled them. As soon as the program launched, they simply couldn’t get enough of the Citi Bike experience. Celebrities from Leonardo DiCaprio to Seth Meyers were pictured riding our bikes all over town. Bruce Willis made his entry onto The Late Show with David Letterman on a Citi Bike. The Citi Bike program became a cultural phenomenon; Forbes declared, “A Citi Bike key has become the latest New York status symbol,” while The Today Show announced, “Color of Spring? Pantone picks the hue of Citi Bike.”
But the crowning glory? The brand knew it had made when it was on the cover of The New Yorker. This coverage, plus much more, contributed to an estimated $4.4 million in earned media impressions in the first 13 weeks -- almost 40 times that of London's bike share program over the same time period. Even the Post capitulated, and with a complete change of heart, encouraged its readers to “Go for a Citi Bike spin with the Post’s seven tailor-made tours.”