Strangers Talk About the Stigma, Shame and Anguish of Debt in This Powerful SoFi Video

Director Tatia Pilieva of 'First Kiss' fame brings candor to the conversation

One woman experienced depression and considered suicide as an escape from the ominous weight of her debt. SoFi
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The heaviest burden of spiraling debt is often that we have to bear the weight alone.

Despite modern society’s reliance on student loans, credit cards and other forms of debt, there are many stigmas that cloud conversations around the topic. Just saying the scope of your debt out loud can feel like you’re giving physical form to an imaginary monster, and even well-justified debt can leave you feeling like you’re at fault for making irresponsible life choices.

These are issues you very rarely see in marketing for loan-related products and services, but personal finance company SoFi commendably tackles them in its new video featuring strangers talking to each other about their debt.

The video is right in the wheelhouse of director Tatia Pilieva, who became a breakout star with her viral “First Kiss” ad for fashion label Wren in 2014. She has since gone on to make several more powerful, semi-documentary clips for brands (and even U2), and SoFi’s “Strangers Talking Money” makes good use of her ability to connect people and walk the line between awkwardness and vulnerability.

The video goes to some very dark and personal places, including one woman’s confession that she considered suicide as an escape from debt, hoping her mother would receive a life insurance payout.

SoFi CMO Joanne Bradford said the brand was committed to including such weighty aspects of the conversation because the team knew it would help chip away at the stigmas that keep us from being honest with each other—and sometimes ourselves—about money and debt.

“As eye-opening and sensitive as that moment was, we knew we had to include it because it really showed how we all have money secrets,” Bradford says. “The more open this conversation becomes, the more we can break down these taboos.”

SoFi, which focuses on offering low-interest loans and refinancing options, set out to create a video that would break away from the usual marketing messages and reflect the realities many consumers have faced in their lives.

“The video highlights different circumstances and situations, but they’re all relatable because, at the end of the day, we all have a money story,” Bradford says. “What made this video so special was that these moments we captured were real and unfiltered. We knew that for this video to make an impact it had to be authentic.”

The project resonated strongly with director Pilieva, who racked up her own student debt on the road to becoming a professional filmmaker.

“I was immediately drawn to the theme of the project, as I seldom encounter frank conversations about money, especially debt, on screen or in life,” she says. “The idea of putting strangers together on camera was not new to me, but what these strangers were about to discuss felt fresh, relatable, and, I dare say, necessary for our culture. I put myself through a graduate program so educational debt was familiar to me, but my personal story was far from being singular. Americans collectively hold $1.5 trillion in student debt. President Obama and Michelle Obama paid off their student loans not long before taking the oval office. There’s certainly a crisis in our society and I wanted to cut through the taboo of talking money with this SoFi project.”


Client: SoFi

Chief Marketing Officer: Joanne Bradford
VP of Brand Marketing: Meg Ciarallo
VP of Membership: Libby Leffler
Executive Creative Director: Shahin Edalati
Associate Creative Director: Sydney Arkin
Art Director: Jason Stanfield
Brand Strategist: Jean-Michel Hoffman
Social Director: Evan Filler
Director Of Creative Production: Stephanie Heinsohn
Producer & PM: Quincey Firth

Production: Pulse Films
Director: Tatia Pilieva
Executive Producer: Casey Engelhardt
Producer: Drew Mardis
Director Of Photography: Andre Lascaris
Set Design: Teri Whittaker
Production Supervisor: Greg Caruso

Editorial: Final Cut
Lead Editor: Patrick Colman
Assistant Editor: Victoria Nakagawa
Music: Simon Heeger

Sound Mix: One Union
Color & Finishing: Beast

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