Buckle Up. This Short Film From a Financial Tech Startup Is Part Black Mirror, Part ‘They Live’

With some of Apple's '1984' thrown in for good measure

In the dystopian world of 'Dream Thieves,' banks siphon your dreams and replace them with nightmares. Koho
Headshot of David Griner

Bank ads love to talk about your dreams. A bucolic retirement, an Ivy League education for your kids, that five-bedroom home with the “Sold” sign in the yard.

But a new long-form ad—or branded short film, more accurately—from Canadian financial tech startup Koho positions banks not as the enablers of your best life but rather as harvesters of dreams, brutally siphoning customers of both their money and their aspirations.

It’s not a pretty picture.

Dystopian, bleak and visceral, “Dream Thieves” accomplishes exactly what Koho set out to do with its first major marketing push. Led by Jason Chaney, Koho’s chief creative officer, the video was directed by French music video visionary Fleur Fortuné and produced by acclaimed Canadian agency Cossette, where Chaney previously served as chief strategist.

“The banking industry is set up in such a way to sell consumers’ dreams,” Chaney says, “but those same products are engineered against the benefit of the consumer and are weighted very much in the benefit of the bank itself.”

Sci-fi aficionados will notice no small number of references, some subtle and others overt, to previous movies, shows and even ads. While the overall tone may remind modern TV viewers of the Netflix anthology Black Mirror, Chaney says his team has counted roughly 30 references in “Dream Thieves,” including callbacks to A Clockwork Orange, Poltergeist and Apple’s iconic ad “1984.”

The minimalist and seemingly hypnotic billboards with black type on white backgrounds are a clear homage to 1988’s They Live (but at least no one has to put on any glasses).

One unintentional similarity is to another piece of long-form branded content, ironically created by a bank. Spanish financial institution Santander created a 17-minute video in 2017 called “Beyond Money,” which had vaguely related themes of memories and thoughts being drained from your mind in a disturbing near-future. But in that ad, a Grand Prix winner at Cannes, the bank was a force for good, encouraging customers to prioritize their lives and loved ones over money.

This time around, banks are very much a force of evil, with an army of privatized police breaking into homes and forcibly removing all hope and joy from your brain.

If it seems extreme, that’s because Koho believes the problems inherent in the traditional banking system are extreme. The startup points to the fact that half of Canadians live paycheck to paycheck, rarely having enough money in their accounts to avoid fees. Meanwhile, such fees are waived by banks for those who actually can afford them, leaving the poorest customers stuck in a cycle of losing money in their attempts to save money.

Koho, by contrast, uses an app and reloadable card with no fees. The company makes its money off merchant transaction fees on its card rather than by charging customers, with money stored by Vancouver-based Peoples Trust.

Rather than Koho itself being the hero of the short film, the creators chose to portray it more as an uprising by the people.

“The heroes are anybody who wants to rewrite the system, which is fundamentally flawed,” Chaney says. “The tonality at the beginning of the film is very dark, and we needed a contrast in people’s dreams, which are represented in light and color.”

Koho has not revealed the budget for this project and related campaign, which Chaney refers to as “a good budget, but not huge.” He says many people donated their time and energy to bring the video to life and that 80 percent of the budget went toward production.

The full-length video recently debuted at Toronto’s Fringe Festival and, in addition to being on YouTube, has been run on Instagram’s long-form offering IGTV and via Snapchat. A 2-minute cut will be shown in theaters starting Aug. 1.


Directed by: Fleur Fortuné
Director of Photography: Matias Boucard
Production Company: Division Paris
Producer: Jules de Chateleux
Agency: Cossette Toronto
Chief Creative Officer: Carlos Moreno
Creative Director/Copywriter: Craig McIntosh
Creative Director/Art Director: Jaimes Zentil
Agency producer: Dena Thompson
Executive production: Family Productions
Postproduction: Mikros MPC Advertising
Executive producer: Quentin H Martin
Sound: Kouz
Sound designer: Sylvain Pierre
Original music composed and performed by: Matteo Locasciulli
Producer: Thomas Couzinier
Publisher: SuperPitch Original

@griner david.griner@adweek.com David Griner is creative and innovation editor at Adweek and host of Adweek's podcast, "Yeah, That's Probably an Ad."