Ally Bank shows there’s a right time for even ad-free brands to advertise

Even though I wrote a book called The Ad-Free Brand, I don’t hate all traditional advertising. In fact, sometimes, I absolutely love it. Today is one of those days.

This morning I opened the New York Times, reading, among other things, stories about the Occupy Wall Street protests. In the business section, on page 7, the top of the page featured a series of images of the protesters, from an 87 year-old man in a walker to a woman carrying a sign that says “Logic of capitalism: you cannot be rich without making others poor.”

Right beneath these photos was a half-page ad from Ally Bank. I’ve been keeping an eye on Ally for the past few years because they seem to be a fantastic example of a Zag approach—a bank that is going one way when every other bank is going the other (in my view, wrong) way. Here is a story that will give you some background on Ally’s approach, but essentially their mission is to re-humanize banking. According to their website, the bank was founded on three simple principles: 1) talk straight 2) do right 3) be obviously better.

That sounds pretty good for a bank.

Here is a close up of the ad that appeared beneath the protester photos:

In The Ad-Free Brand, I answer a question I’m often asked: Can ad-free brands ever advertise?

The answer?


But rather than building their brands exclusively through traditional advertising, ad-free brands build their brand by following the principle of esse quam videri, “To be rather than to seem to be.”

Rather than talking about what the brand is through the language of advertising, they live the brand and design it into the DNA of the organization so that the brand comes through in every interaction with it.

But sometimes there is a moment in history when a brand story resonates especially well on a broad scale.

For Ally Bank, this is that time.

For the last few years, Ally has been building a brand as a different type of bank from the inside out, by being a more human bank rather than just seeming to be a more human bank. Even though Ally isn’t exactly an ad-free brand (they do regularly spend money on traditional advertising), they are investing much more money and effort getting the brand experience right than they are in spouting endless marketing messages.

Now, with a growing movement increasingly dissatisfied with the financial industry, it is a perfect time for them to dial up the volume with a few well-placed advertisements. And with a pitch-perfect, authentically-articulated message, this particular ad not only differentiates Ally from its banking competition, it serves as an olive branch—one bank willing to break with its brethren and show sympathy to the pain being expressed by a growing movement.

I mean, come on. Are the banks really arrogant enough to believe it is OK for them to screw the very consumers who bailed them out and have seen none of the benefits from that investment trickle back to them? Ally Bank doesn’t think so.

I don’t either.

Was this post helpful?

If so, you can find more thoughts about how to build your brand effectively in my book, The Ad-Free Brand (not an advertisement, mind you, just a friendly suggestion:).

Only $9.99 for the Kindle, but available in each of these formats:
| Kindle | Nook | EPUB/PDF

About Chris Grams

Chris Grams is Head of Marketing at Tidelift. He is also the author of The Ad-Free Brand: Secrets to Successful Brand Positioning in a Digital World.


5 thoughts on “Ally Bank shows there’s a right time for even ad-free brands to advertise

  1. Chris, I like the post . . . and have enjoyed ally’s ads. I don’t think I would call them an Ad-Free brand though, as it seems to me they have done tv commercials all along. They’ve been pretty creative, etc…. Perhaps this is their first print ad? I don’t know . . . . Want to also add, don’t beat up on the banks too much . . . some of them were asked to take TARP when they didn’t need it in order to show confidence in the plan . . . they did and have been beaten up about it ever since. Believe me, I think banks have some issues, but there is a lot of the whole economic problem that has been laid at their feet undeservedly. Lots and lots of blame to go around that isn’t their’s. Esp. a lot of community banks. The “brush of blame” has just lumped them all together. Anyway, lots more to share, but . . . again, good post.

    Posted by Susan Caddell | October 16, 2011, 9:44 am
    • Hi Susan! Thanks for the great thoughts! Yeah, I definitely don’t think Ally is an ad-free brand– Ally does plenty of advertising. But at least from where I sit, it looks like they understand that advertising alone won’t build a great brand. They seem to get the “building a brand from the inside out” concept. My thought was that this example is a good one for true ad-free brands to look at when considering when to make an exception and actually put some money into traditional advertising. And thanks also for defending the banks generally, especially the little guys. I will mention that I had one very specific big bank in mind when writing the post:)

      Posted by Chris Grams | October 16, 2011, 9:55 am
  2. I’m struck by how the tone of the print ad both reinforces and contrasts with the TV ads. The print ad on the surface appears to be more “mature”…less snarky than the TV ads. Yet that apparent “maturity” may be coming from the design…similar to an IPO announcement. And possibly designed to attract the very financial “types” that are being ridiculed.

    Posted by KC Ramsay | October 16, 2011, 12:43 pm
  3. I live more or less paycheck to paycheck ( I border on the poverty line). I used to bank with Wachovia, and one time, they literally charged me with $350 in overdraft fee… on small purchases like CVS pharmacy etc. 6 days shy from my next paycheck. Needless to say when my paycheck came in they took half of it away. I called, and begged to get my money back, but they wouldn’t have it, the customer rep on the other end, acted as if he was doing me a favor, . From that day forward, I moved my money to Ally. Facing a similar situation, I called Ally and told him I might be short on cash for three days, but I will be getting my paycheck soon. He said don’t worry about it, we’ll leave a note on your account. Three days later, no overdraft charges, no fuss. I love that I’m one phone call away from an actual representative that isn’t a d!c|< about MY money. This is truly a qualitatively different bank, and I've been a walking advertisement for ally to my colleagues and friends ever since. That's the difference between Ally and the d0^che bag banks charging these ridiculous fees.

    Posted by joeB | October 22, 2011, 11:43 pm


  1. Pingback: Brand Everywhere: Ally Bank | Webtype > Blog - January 3, 2013

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