Linking People and Helping Them Prosper
12/16/2008

Subscribe to the Journal of Financial Advertising & Marketing

Subscribe to The Journal of Financial Advertising & Marketing--the industry's premiere source for strategy and insight.  Published twenty-six times each year, JFAM features the thinking of financial marketing's leading CMO's and strategists.

Subscribe to the Journal of Financial Advertising & Marketing

Linking People and Helping Them Prosper
12/16/2008

By Kip Fry
The Journal of Financial Advertising & Advertising

Linking People and Helping Them Prosper
By Kip Fry
 
In a world in which meeting people through the Internet has become an easier
task on a daily basis, it only makes sense that lending money has become just
as simple. That’s because it can also be done on the computer. Without actually
leaving the home, people can be matched, via Prosper.com, so one of them can
provide a loan to someone else, someone who might be located on the opposite
coast of the country.
 
It’s a fairly new concept, one that still needs to be promoted as much as
Prosper itself, so it provided a challenge to the producers of the ad. That’s
where Catherine Muriel and Steve McDonald came into the process. The two
had worked together several years ago when they were
both at E-LOAN. But they had both moved on to other
companies and projects since then.
 
Muriel, now the chief marketing officer at Prosper, had
to come up with a way that would introduce both the concept of peer-to-peer
(P2P) lending, and the Prosper name itself. With 780,000 members and $60
million granted in loans, it would seem that Prosper has already put its name
out there. But there is still a great deal of education to do.
“We had to make it extremely clear that we use real people. That’s what it’s
all about,” Muriel says. “The agencies said that we cannot use real people
because they can’t act.” McDonald agrees with Muriel.
“We were so fortunate because casting is so important that we were able
to use real people. They looked like actors,” he says.
 
Real-life people, real-life stories
But Muriel knew that real-life people had to be used because they were so
pivotal to the company and its success. She believed that these partnerships
had to be shown in the ads. One pair of borrowers and lenders had already
been featured on CBS’ “The Morning Show”: John, a Staten Island cop; and
Lara, a fashion designer from Chicago. John had lent Lara some money through
Prosper for her to start her own design business.
“For Lara, it was the only opportunity to fund the business because she didn’t
have a credit history,” McDonald explains.
John and Lara had not yet met when the ad was shot. But going by their
reactions on film, they were certainly glad to do so. “The cop really did help
this incredible designer get off the ground,” Muriel says.
 
At the same time, they had to explain the concept behind Prosper. “We can’t
tell the entire story, but we can create an awareness from the lender perspective,”
Muriel says. “Putting a face to the concept is the best way to convey
what it is all about.”
 
Muriel brought McDonald on board and he quickly became the executive
creative director of the project. He contacted some of his friends in Los Angeles
to start making plans. Although the Prosper offices are located in San
Francisco and much of the crew was down the coast in Los Angeles,
McDonald decided to shoot the ads in Miami, Fla. Director of photography Ted
Chu had some professional connections there, so it was an opportunity to save
money for the company. Balaji Kumar was named director of the ad, while Eric
Massey was creative director and writer.
 
Chu used what is known as a red camera, the same kind of camera found on
the sets of Peter Jackson movies (director of “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy),
which provides a “stunningly clear” high definition picture, according to
McDonald. It can also edit the pictures right on the set, so Muriel could make
suggestions without having to go back to the studio at a later time.
The camera was also the motivation for the name McDonald created for the
production company — “Red Vision.” It was chosen just for this project, so it
was decided it should be done after the name of the camera that made the ads
so special.
 
McDonald and Muriel soon realized that it would be difficult for them to
explain what Prosper did exactly, so there would be a challenge to the work.
“We had to establish things on the first set of commercials,” McDonald said,
“Otherwise it would be off-putting to many people.”
 
Much of the weight would be placed on Massey’s shoulders who wrote the
scripts for the ads. The words had to be just right and succinct for the 30-
second time slot. As far as Prosper was concerned, they
were: “Meet John, a real Prosper lender, and Lara , a real
Prosper borrower. The Staten Island cop had money to
lend. The Chicago designer needed a loan to get started.
Both found just what they needed and exactly what they
wanted at Prosper.com. Through Prosper, borrowers get a
great rate, and lenders can get an excellent return. To learn more, go to
Prosper.com. Prosper. Let’s bank on each other.”
Another ad featured a married couple from Utah (Kent and Stacie) who
borrowed money from a boat builder (Bob) in Miami, much in the same fashion
as John and Lara.
 
On the radio, too
A series of radio ads were also recorded, one of which said: “I’m in college and
I needed some extra cash, so I went to the bank. Right? Wrong. I went to
Prosper.com. At Prosper.com, they bring together people who want to borrow
money with people wanting to loan money. That’s right. Loans without a bank.
Just regular people helping each other. Borrowers can get lower rates —
lenders great returns. At Prosper.com, everyone wins. Everyone prospers. Next
time you need a loan, go to Prosper.com. Prosper. Let’s bank on each other.”
Several slightly longer behind-the scenes videos were
also filmed that McDonald designed to be part of the viral
campaign on the web. So various kinds of promotions
were produced for the campaign. They also tested other
slogans, such as, “Someone out there believes in you.”
 
The crew was in Miami shooting the ad for two weeks last February. Of that
time, two actual days were spent filming at eight different locations there.
Things went so smoothly that it seemed like a party, according to McDonald. “It
was a great collaboration,” he adds. “Having a local crew there really helped.”
By using Red Vision, production costs were kept to a minimum. But it all
worked out in the end.
 
“It was seamless, on-time and on-budget. You can’t always say that. It
doesn’t always happen,” says Muriel.
The campaign was put together in time so the ads could be tested on television
in Minneapolis in early May.
 
“It was an incredibly short turn-around with a lot of back and forth,”
McDonald explains. Now that that test has been passed, they have been aired
nationally and can be seen on cable TV networks, such as CNN, CNBC and
even Comedy Central.
“They can be seen on shows appealing to the quality borrower with good
credit ratings,” says Muriel. As for Comedy Central, it may be surprising that
its demographics match that of Prosper’s, so it provided an ideal location for
the company.
 
This year, a separate issue has been created for advertisers because of the
Olympics and the two political conventions on TV, according to McDonald.
“There are plenty of things on the air, so we don’t want to be lost against the
election and the Olympics,” he says.
A print effort of the campaign will also be unveiled soon. Those ads will be
seen in the fall, Muriel says. Radio spots were focused on specific personal
loans and hit different markets in June. They took a break when the Olympics
aired for two weeks in August, but they are scheduled to return in September.
 
The microcredit revolution
As a part of the microcredit revolution, Prosper is still relatively new on the
scene, so it is important to tell viewers what microcredit is all about. It is something
that Muriel says she understood right from the start. That, along with the
use of real personalities in the ads, were the two most important elements the
director was assigned to capture.
 
“We are bringing borrowers and lenders together,” she says, so that had to
be shown in the ads. “Putting stories together and having the opportunity to do
so resonates with us. These are fellow Americans helping each other out, so
(when we saw the ad) we said ‘that’s it.’”
 
Although Prosper has only been on the market for a couple years, microcredit
has actually been around for much longer. Its history goes all the way
back to the 19th century and the pen of Lysander Spooner, an abolitionist and
anarchist who wrote a pamphlet called “Poverty: Its Illegal Causes and Legal
Cure,” and argued that the best way to prevent poverty was to offer loans to
the poor at varying levels of interest.
 
“The law, that allows all men, without distinction, to borrow capital, provided
they can borrow it at six percent interest, is, in the equality of its operation, like
a law that should allow every man perfect freedom to profess and enjoy his
own peculiar religion,” Spooner wrote.
 
But microcredit, as the idea is recognized today, was first developed in, of
all places, that seat of economic power, Bangladesh. It was created to help
poor people there work for themselves and pull their way out of poverty.
Grameen Foundation, which touts the principle, was founded by 2006 Nobel
Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus. More than 30
years ago, Yunus started the bank when he had only $27
to his name. Now in the 21st century, Grameen serves six
million poor families by offering them loans, savings,
insurance and other types of services.
 
Because Grameen does more than just loan money,
it is considered a practitioner of microfinance. According to the Grameen
website (www.grameenorganization.org), the process is sometimes called
“banking for the poor.” It is “an amazingly simple approach that has been
proven to empower very poor people around the world to pull themselves out
of poverty. Relying on their traditional skills and entrepreneurial instincts, very
poor people, mostly women, use small loans (usually less than U.S.$200), other
financial services, and support from local organizations called microfinance
institutions (MFIs) to start, establish, sustain, or expand very small, self-supporting
businesses. A key to microfinace is the recycling of loan dollars. As
each loan is repaid — usually within six months to a year — the money is
recycled as another loan, thus multiplying the value of each dollar in defeating
global poverty, and changing lives and communities.”
 
Prosper is designed only to work with U.S. citizens, so it does not have to
deal with people who are so extremely poor. It also offers P2P services, something
that Grameen cannot do. But the two are still closely related. Another
similar website, Zopa, is based in the United Kingdom and will soon be available
across the pond in the U.S.
 
Some critics complain that Prosper will not be able to succeed because it is
geared toward people with bad credit, people are not likely to use it more than
once (only those with financial problems) and lenders will leave if they get
burned on a loan. The good thing about it is that there is a need for it (just look
at the numbers of people who have been involved), its
anonymity protects lenders and people do not want to hurt
average Joes online who honestly need a loan.
On top of that, it was started by Chris Larsen, the
founder of E-LOAN, who was a participant in JFAM’s 10 Questions section a
few issues ago. Larsen told JFAM that a large part of its marketing idea comes
from the notion of community and building on it.
 
“Our community is our strongest asset,” Larsen said last year, “so we want
to let them be the voice of the company. To achieve this, we’re focused on a
number of initiatives that are designed to let the community spread the word in
effective and meaningful ways.” Prosper’s ads exemplify that perfectly.
Once the Minneapolis test run was completed earlier this summer, executives
at Prosper knew that the market they had hit was something that had not
been done before. “They (the actors) were able to go out there with a message
and were able to personify what they are. The campaign was both rational and
emotional,” says Muriel.
 
“There is a changing environment with the social networks,” she adds.
“Prosper is right there on the cusp.”
 
Kip Fry is editorial director of The Journal of Financial Advertising & Marketing, as well as a

freelance writer. He can be reached at kip@financialmarketing.com.

Back to List