Creating good vibes around financial responsibility

Credit Karma uses humour to get Canadians to check their credit scores.


This story appears in the January/Feburary issue of strategy.

Several members of Taxi Vancouver’s creative team received some unpleasant news last fall.

A “Canadian collections agency” was calling to inform them about an old credit issue, which was having a huge impact on their credit scores, to a degree that could put their entire financial future at risk.

After being bombarded with the news, they headed into a surprise brief for new client Credit Karma, where they learned they had been pranked: the collections agency caller was actually a voice-over artist enlisted by the agency’s account and planning teams.

Credit Karma, founded in the U.S. in 2007 and launched in Canada in November, is an online platform that offers users free access to their credit scores (in the U.S., Credit Karma generates revenue by delivering ads and offers from partner financial institutions, though that hasn’t come to Canada yet).

“We knew a lot of Canadians didn’t think about their credit, so doing this challenged the team to think hard about what the outcome of not knowing could be,” says Jay Gundzik, creative director at Taxi Vancouver.

Credit Karma has used in-house creative teams and San Francisco-based agencies to craft its campaigns stateside, but enlisted Taxi as a local presence to navigate how Canadians handle debt and finances. A major difference that has driven the new campaign is that while the average Canadian’s debt load is at a record high, two-thirds have never checked their credit report.

“We moved very quickly on our decision to expand to Canada, but as we did that we realized the market and how Canadians use credit was very different,” says Jamily Knight, senior director of creative strategy at Credit Karma.

Knight adds that many of those who have seen their score have done so through a free trial period for a paid service, like Equifax or TransUnion.

The lead spot in the brand’s Canadian launch campaign – released before the holidays – cuts between shots of people learning about their credit score and those who have discovered other things that are useful or wish they had known before, like what happens after you streak at a hockey game.

“[Canadians] don’t really know much about credit or what we should check or how often, so that’s actually a big barrier of entry,” says Heather Fletcher, account director at Taxi. “If we help identity things consumers haven’t thought of, not only are we creating awareness for the issue, we’re doing the same for Credit Karma by making it the solution.”

Two additional spots in the campaign continue with the humourous approach, looking at the consequences of situations when someone is living in ignorance. One has a husband realizing he had poured his wife’s breast milk over the cereal he’s been eating, with the message being we’re better off not knowing certain things, but a credit score isn’t one of them. The other shows an elderly man having conversations with collectors who called him in search of a woman who hadn’t updated her contact info following a move, and as a result was unaware of issues impacting her credit.

While ignorance about debt and credit can have grave consequences, taking a humourous approach helps make Credit Karma more approachable as a solution to a serious problem, Gundzik says.

“The trick was to not fearmonger,” he says. With the oil downturn and a potential real estate bubble, it was a good time to introduce Canadians to the idea. “We just didn’t want to do that by startling them. We wanted to spark curiosity instead.”