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4 Marketing Lessons for Community Banks from Zelles SAFE Squad Campaign

Payments fraud has been on the rise in recent years with 8% of all banking customers reporting they’ve been victimized by a P2P scam in the last 12 months. P2P payment provider Zelle, after a string of high-profile scams and a decision to reimburse certain consumers for them, is taking action.  On November 30, 2023, the company launched S.A.F.E. Squad — Scam and Fraud Elimination Squad — a marketing campaign in partnership with Vox media designed to educate consumers about safe payment usage. Mimicking many beloved detective procedurals, the series of three 10-minute videos star actor and producer Christina Ricci, who leads a team of investigators dedicated to exposing and combating impostor scams. In the episodes, Ricci’s character exposes fake job ads requiring a deposit, romance scams where a would-be love interest urgently needs thousands of dollars, and hoaxes where criminals pose as law enforcement agents demanding immediate repayment of allegedly overdue taxes. In addition to the videos, the campaign includes an interactive microsite with facts about imposter scams, and quizzes to help consumers test their knowledge on avoiding P2P fraud.

Heightened competition from non-bank competitors means, among other things, that community banks need to get creative to get and keep customers’ attention. Community bank marketers can take several lessons from Zelle’s creative campaign. In this article, we will explore four takeaways from S.A.F.E. Squad and one critique from which to learn.

Educate First, Sell Later

The average consumer is inundated with advertising content on a daily basis. Our collective ad fatigue makes the job of capturing and audience’s attention much harder than it used to be. It may sound counterintuitive, but this campaign is helped by the fact that it isn’t directly selling anything.  By walking the characters through realistic scenarios, the videos offer valuable information that the audience can use to protect themselves later. This approach positions Zelle as a trusted resource and puts them top-of-mind without making a direct sales pitch. Your bank can do the same—making a point to educate your customer before you make a sales pitch builds trust in your institution, a key to doing business in financial services. 

Harness the Power of Story

People love a good story. They serve not only to entertain, but to help our minds categorize and make sense of information.  The S.A.F.E. Squad stories pique interest, are memorable, and entertaining enough that learning from them doesn’t feel like a chore. Your community bank can harness the power of story—but you don’t necessarily need Hollywood to do it. Tell your customer a story of financial success with your institution through fiction, like the Zelle campaign, or real-life testimonials.

Pick the Right Partnerships

Rather than trying to pull of this campaign internally, Zelle leveraged partnerships with Vox Media and actor Christina Ricci to execute the S.A.F.E. Squad campaign. If your community bank doesn’t have the internal resources or talent to bring a marketing vision to life, it’s crucial to choose the right external partners. Find partners with the right core competencies, an understanding of your audience, and networks beyond your own.

Don’t Limit to One Platform

The S.A.F.E. Squad campaign didn’t limit its content to its flagship videos, but also included a microsite and interactive quizzes. Similarly, your bank shouldn’t limit its great ideas to one platform or one form of content. The same message can be shared via a video, a social media graphic, a blog post, and a podcast, and across multiple channels. This ensures that you capture as much of your audience as possible.

One Critique: Keep it Simple

One common critique from the campaign’s online audience was its complexity. The storylines seemed convoluted to some viewers, and the script gave more information than the average consumer needs. The 10-minute length of the videos could also pose a problem; online attention spans are short, and not all consumers are willing to watch that long. For your own campaigns, keep it simple. Keep content on the short side, and simplify the information you share.


Community banks face more competition than ever from megabanks and non-bank challengers alike. To compete effectively with non-bank entities, community banks should take notes from their successes. Getting creative with your marketing by educating your audience, harnessing the power of story, choosing the right partnerships, leveraging multiple platforms, and keeping your message simple can help your bank showcase its unique value in a crowded financial marketplace.

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