Citi Gets ‘Dynamite’-like Duo For Rewards Program

Jared Hess, director of oddball flick Napoleon Dynamite, and Citi, one of the world’s largest banking institutions, may seem as likely a couple as Felix and Oscar. Yet the two have paired for a new campaign to tout the ease of point accumulation through the company’s expansive rewards programs, a potentially deadly dull list covering everything from credit card purchases to direct deposits.

The campaign’s two offbeat characters, created by Fallon, were inspired by Hess’ idiosyncratic style. The TV spots introduce Roman, a man of vague Eastern European descent and an unabashed fan of Citi’s rewards program, and his seemingly American assistant, Victor.

One spot depicts Roman racking up points by simply going about his daily routine. “Watch as I rack up points for having direct deposit,” he says while sitting on a bench. Another shows Roman earning points by taking a transcontinental flight via tickets purchased using a Citi Premiere credit card, while Victor sits next to him keeping a running tally of points earned for every mile flown. Each 30-second spot ends with a close-up of Roman, framed by a listing of the programs used in the spot. In heavily accented English, he says, “Rewarding. Very, very, very rewarding.”

While the creative is new, the media buy is more of the same for the company. The spots will run on prime-time network fare such as the World Series, Grey’s Anatomy, Prison Break and Two and a Half Men, as well as on cable. Though the campaign does have an Internet component from Omnicom’s Atmosphere/BBDO in New York (details of which had not been finalized as of press time), the lion’s share of the media investment will be on traditional outlets, with seven TV spots and three print executions.

“We’ve had great success with the traditional media,” said Robert O’Leary, managing director of global advertising for Citi. “Right now, we’re focusing on what’s worked in the past.”

Fallon also believes that TV lends itself to the establishment of characters upon whom the campaign can hang. “You’d be hard-pressed to find a better medium to create characters than television,” said Fallon ecd Kerry Feuerman.

Neither agency nor client executives would comment on specific spending numbers, but sources projected $100 million through the end of the year. According to TNS Media Intelligence, Citi has spent roughly $150 million during the fourth quarters of both 2004 and 2005 on its banking and credit card programs.

“We’ll be competitive in the market,” said O’Leary. “We’re investing the appropriate amount based on what our products are.”

Fallon’s previous efforts for the company’s “Thank You” rewards programs focused on the points’ redemption and the prizes available. One spot from last year depicted a man working at his desk surrounded by framed pictures of his family, only to reveal the photo subjects were real people forced to pose in the frames. The implication was the man couldn’t afford a digital camera, but could get one through his accumulated “Thank You” points.