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Younger consumers are notoriously hard to reach. Their media consumption is digital-first, and they are skeptical of advertising. But with a new campaign that imitates movie trailers, Royal Bank of Canada is hoping young customers will be coming soon – to a mortgage consultant near you.

The campaign is designed to speak to the current generation of first-time home buyers, who do not respond as well to traditional advertising. The bulk of it will be online – on YouTube and RBC's website. Three videos capture the story of a young couple buying a house, in cinematic fashion.

The "trailers" are designed to address the different reactions people have to that stressful process. There's a drama for those who find it overwhelming, a romantic comedy for those who are excited at taking that big life step and a horror for those who find the prospect terrifying (anyone who has perused home prices in Toronto, for example).

The Mortgage Drama trailer

The bank’s digital advertising agency, Entrinsic, even hired a director with Hollywood experience – Jeremiah Chechik, director of films such as Benny & Joon and National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation – to give the trailers an authentic feel.

Much has been made of the need to reach millennials – young consumers in their 20s and very early 30s. But the RBC campaign has a slightly older target audience: prospective home buyers around 34 years old.

By using a campaign that is almost entirely digital to reach this audience, RBC’s effort here could be seen as a sign that marketers are recognizing how the digital-first generation is beginning to age into a lucrative consumer segment. More adult-targeted advertising will likely use tactics that have been associated with a millennial audience in the coming years.

“The demographic, they’ve grown up connected … they’re users of social media, and they use it to help make their decisions,” Larry Jacobs, Royal Bank’s head of marketing for personal financing products, said. “Behaviours are changing.”

The Mortgage Romantic Comedy trailer

Research firm eMarketer released an estimate on Thursday predicting that global digital advertising spending will grow almost 15 per cent this year to hit $137.5-billion (U.S.). According to a report from Boston-based research firm Visible Measures, branded videos attracted more than 8.3 billion views in 2013, a jump of 44 per cent compared to the previous year.

Roughly 90 per cent of RBC’s spending on this campaign is online, with some print and outdoor advertising to complement it. RBC’s trailers will run as “preroll” (the commercials that play before online videos) in shorter form, with full-length versions on YouTube, Vimeo and RBC’s website.

A big part of this campaign for RBC is a measurement effort behind the scenes to track how prospective consumers are responding to the ads.

RBC is using YouTube annotations – little tags that pop up during the videos, which link to content targeted to the different audiences. In the horror-style trailer, during a scene when one of the characters is in a spooky, dark room, a tag pops up that says “Feeling alone?” and links to a site to help them find a mortgage specialist. Other links, depending on content, will direct people to mortgage calculators or preapproval requests.

The Mortgage Horror trailer

RBC and its agency Entrinsic will be watching the traffic from all of the different videos and may change the placement and content of those annotations to experiment with the most effective messages to drive people to the website.

That is important, because it is much easier for an advertiser to change a tag than it is for them to re-edit a video on the fly.

“We’ll be watching the numbers, see how it performs, and we’ll adjust,” said Eli Singer, founder and president of Entrinsic. The agency and the bank will also be measuring not just clicks on links, but how many of them actually turn into customers.

The research being done with this campaign will help them to understand how to manage its spending on digital advertising in the future as well, RBC’s Mr. Jacobs said.

This use of annotations has already been gaining speed in other industries – especially retail, where brands such as Sport Chek, Juicy Couture and Dyson vaccuums have been experimenting with shoppable” online videos. But it is still relatively rare in sectors such as financial services. While users have long been able to post annotations to point viewers to other YouTube videos, the function allowing links to other websites is still in beta for advertisers. RBC had to work with Google directly to be able to do it.

RBC’s campaign is an example of “content marketing” – companies creating ads that people may actually want to watch. It’s something that has taken off in recent years, but is still relatively rare in Canadian financial services.

One exception is ING Direct, which last May teamed up with YouTube stars and advertising darlings Walk Off the Earth. The band produced a savings-themed cover of Madonna’s Material Girl to promote a contest for the bank.

“One of the biggest questions we face every day is, ‘How do I as a brand become a content producer?’” said Marshall Self, head of media solutions at Google Canada.

By giving customers something fun to watch, advertisers can sometimes convince them to sit through other ads that are not as instantly attractive.

For example, last November, Volvo Trucks released a video that has since attracted more than 70 million views on YouTube, featuring Jean-Claude Van Damme doing the splits between two moving trucks – one foot on each.

As that video gained popularity, YouTube’s team noticed that viewership of the brand’s other videos began to spike at the same time. People who had watched Van Damme were willing to sit through product demonstrations. “Demonstration of the unique technology Volvo Dynamic Steering,” for example – a rather dry two minutes and 19 seconds – now has 1.2 million views on YouTube. Google searches related to Volvo trucks also spiked.

“It’s a really good strategy to get people in through the ‘hero’ video,” Mr. Self said. “Not every brand is going to be a Red Bull Media House [the company’s operation dedicated to creating content] or a Pepsi … but brands are making that transition.”

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