Author:Mark Lane

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Note: Also see essay for Citigroup Inc.

In fall of 2003 Citibank, a subsidiary of Citigroup Inc., the world's largest financial services conglomerate, set out to bolster its consumer divisions' "Live Richly" umbrella campaign with a set of television, print, and outdoor advertisements that introduced its new Identity Theft Solutions service for credit-card holders. The service was a timely response to Americans' growing fears about the crime of identity theft and was intended to distinguish Citibank from its consumer-banking competitors and to thereby build on the people-friendly image cultivated in previous "Live Richly" spots.

The idea of identity theft was inherently terrifying, but Citibank and its main U.S. ad agency, Fallon Worldwide of Minneapolis, wanted to communicate the potential severity of the danger posed to consumers without resorting to scare tactics. The resulting series of four television ads, which cost an estimated $750,000 to produce, featured ordinary, sympathetic characters who channeled, via lip-synching, the voices of the sinister but humorously intriguing criminals who had victimized them. This technique directly dramatized the idea of someone assuming another person's identity, and the wild disparity between the characters' appearance and his or her dialogue was both comical and disturbing. Print and outdoor ads similarly employed pictures of innocent-looking people juxtaposed with copy indicating the out-of-character crimes or debts for which that person was supposedly responsible.

"Identity Theft Solutions" was named Adweek's Best Campaign of 2003, and an individual campaign spot won a 2004 Emmy for Outstanding Commercial. Citibank's consumer divisions, and particularly its credit-card operations, sustained the parent company through extremely difficult financial times. The campaign ran through 2004.


Citibank hired Fallon Worldwide's Minneapolis shop to take over the brand's U.S. advertising in 2000, a move widely seen as an attempt to humanize its faceless corporate image. Fallon, a rising star known for its quirkiness, promised to produce ads that were "unbanklike," while still managing to live up to the challenge that, according to Adweek, Citibank had set: to "unite the varied and various elements of its consumer division—including banking and credit cards." The company wanted to distance itself from the financial-services advertising of the 1990s, which concentrated on wealth for its own sake, and Fallon helped the company do so by creating an umbrella concept titled "Live Richly," which focused on presenting financial well-being as a means to living fully rather than as the object of life.

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HISTORICAL CONTEXT © Alan Schein Photography/Corbis Reproduced by permission.

Though the message "There's more to life than money" struck some observers as disingenuous coming from a bank, the campaign's theme proved well suited to an historical moment characterized by the dot-com crash, the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and several high-profile corporate scandals. In this climate of widespread anxiety about the American economy and personal security, Citibank pinpointed a further danger to consumers—identity theft—and introduced a service to protect them from it.

As businesses relied more and more on computer technology, identity theft—the criminal use of an unwitting individual's private information to open false credit-card accounts, secure home and car loans, or commit other criminal acts—increasingly became an issue for Americans. Identity-theft complaints rose 73 percent between 2001 and 2002, and they continued to multiply...

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