Tuesday was “Pay Back a Friend Day.”
It’s not too late to send a card if you missed it, as long as you finally make good on that $35 your buddy spotted you back in May.
But that would also be missing the point. You see, Pay Back a Friend Day is a marketing device Bank of America (BOA) launched to tout its mobile person-to-person (P2P) payment capabilities.
The initiative was supported by a series of high-profile and rather impressive TV commercials and, in case there was any doubt about the target demographic, a prominent #FriendsAgain social media campaign.
The latter generated its fair share of online snark, which I suppose comes with the territory.
This is the second prominent campaign (remember Serena Williams and Steph Curry playing ping pong in the green room for Chase?) promoting the capabilities of Zelle, the bank-owned challenger to Venmo and PayPal in the P2P wars.
Not to be outdone, PayPal has been active in the TV landscape recently as well. Its “New Money” spots emphasize security features (e.g. no need to re-enter card credentials when prying eyes may be looking over your shoulder), and have been airing on many of the same shows as BOA’s.
Befitting its core demographic, Venmo (which is owned by PayPal, by the way) relies mostly on digital and viral marketing. Its limited TV presence hones in on outlets like MTV2 and, interestingly, advances the same “avoid friction with your friends” themes currently emphasized by BOA.
BOA has generated decent coverage with its #FriendsAgain campaign thanks in part to an infographic [pdf, p.7] which claims 38% of Americans believe repaying a debt can help salvage a failing friendship.
Its ads also do a good job highlighting the “send/request/split” payment functionality, addressing key use cases that have helped fuel Venmo’s success.
The BOA and Chase TV spots fulfilled Zelle’s promise of a major Q3 marketing rollout. Notably, however, none of these ads provide meaningful visibility to the Zelle brand.
Earlier this year, Early Warning Systems (Zelle’s parent) acknowledged that one of the lessons learned from the big banks’ prior clearXchange foray into P2P was the need for a unified brand to alleviate consumer confusion.
Chase and BOA (along with five other major U.S. banks) are Early Warning’s owners. However, it’s not surprising that when push came to shove the marketing executives writing large checks wanted the message to emphasize their own bank brands.
Zelle has inked agreements with Jack Henry and CO-OP Financial Services to bring credit unions and community banks into its network—part of its strategy to achieve ubiquitous coverage.
Non-Early Warning owner Citigroup has also joined the fold. Zelle’s network already claims coverage for 86 million U.S. accounts, pending some regional bank rollouts (SunTrust, BB&T).
It ultimately will come down to a battle for hearts and minds, though, as Zelle will need to win over millennials already enamored with Venmo.
The next salvo may well come at next week’s Money 20/20 conference in Las Vegas, where both PayPal and Apple Pay have time booked on the main stage.
The latter’s presence is particularly intriguing, as Apple has kept a pointedly low profile until now.
I’ll be providing updates directly from the event. If you happen to be attending, be sure to say hi!
GLEN SARVADY is managing partner at 154 Advisors and senior payments expert with Best Innovation Group, a CUNA consulting partner. Follow him on Twitter via @154Advisors. His views do not necessarily reflect those of Credit Union National Association.