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The Text Message That Changed The Game for Wema Bank

Contributor: Oti Ukubeyinje

I randomly spotted this in my YouTube archive and it brought some interesting memories of my agency days, thought I’d share the gist.

This was in 2016. The most amount WEMA Bank had spent on a digital campaign at this time was about N3m or so. We went in to sell programmatic ads, and the then head of marketing, Onome, loved the idea, but she wasn’t sure how to pull out the budget we were asking for – Min $10k for a test.

One evening she sends a brief via SMS around 4:30pm- “Wema’s anniversary is coming up, and we’re launching our USSD code *945#. Come up with a full plan and add programmatic to it, You need to present tomorrow”. That was all.

I was the media director. I called the head of strategy (David Ole) and MD (Dayo Elegbe) and we entered a room and stared at each other for about 5 mins without saying a word.  Dayo asked the first question – What can we do with the numbers 945 that will make people use the USSD code like their life depended on it? Between the 3 of us, the following came out of our mouths:

Wema is an old peoples bank with an ageing customer base, it needs to reposition for the younger customers else it’ll die with its customer base.

Young people are digital first, so it’s gotta be a digital first campaign.

Betting and gaming is picking up really fast, young people have never felt so informed, connected and lucky, thanks to Facebook and Sports betting.

We have very little time to develop anything main stream like a robust TVC or anything of such.

Facebook live has just launched in Nigeria a month ago, and most digital natives are jumping on it like fruitcake.

We chewed on these thoughts for a bit, and came up with the following within the next 30 mins:

Let’s do a game show, we’ll call it the 945 game show and it’ll air every day, LIVE, at 9:45pm

Since it’s for young people, it’ll be online only, on FACEBOOK LIVE, and will last for 15-20 mins max since people will use expensive data and they won’t stay for too long.

Anyone who uses *945# to open an account or transact will qualify to win 40k, 50k or 90k, depending on the number that’s selected when they are randomly called live on the bingo-styled game show.

We’ll get senior bank officials to co-host the game show and use the opportunity to sell WEMA bank and USSD banking.

We’ll promote the hell out of the game show online, radio and in branches, and track daily new accounts and daily transaction volumes via USSD.

All promotional creative would be animated, to make it look youthful. We’ll even create a mascot for it.

Now the big issue, what would it take to execute this and how much would it cost?? This part that took most of the time and it remains one of the most time consuming exercise for agencies. I put together the rough slides in less than 30 mins while the graphics lead (Olabode) jazzed it up with mockups within an hour. Then we spent the rest of the night calling up vendors here and there to find out the cost of things. From studio and props to the right MC, production, logistics, etc. My colleague (Tosin Adeniyi) was the account/project manager. He was new, and this was his first major project. I don’t think he had and has ever worked as hard and fast as he did in his entire life, on this project. It almost sapped all the life out of him. Like, once he heard the idea and plan that we cooked up in that room, he know he was done for! His eyes went red immediately.

We sent the plan to the head of marketing, she loved it and she scheduled a board meeting straight away. This thing went from 0 to 100 just like that. Next thing we were presenting to the entire board of the bank in this really huge boardroom, you needed mics to speak to over 20 people in the same room. HOM whispered, Oti I trust you o, but abeg no fall my hand. Aunty chill, we got this. After about 45 mins of brutal Q&A, MD looked at me and Tosin sternly and said, Let’s do it! Budget approved, timelines defined and agreed – 2 weeks to prepare, 2 weeks to execute.

I knew the workload involved and it was scary. A part of me hoped they won’t approve so I can just go back to media buying in peace but no, the idea was too good to be ignored. I called my wife – Babe, I’ve just signed up for 2 weeks of madness, just pretend I’m not in town even if I come home.

We swung into action immediately and had to do the following in 2 weeks: Secure and model a studio, get gaming licenses in place, build all animations, creative and landing pages, block all the major digital spots, onboard a Facebook partner (telescope) for high fidelity Facebook Live execution, develop entire production plan, prep bank execs for co-hosting, etc… it was one hell of a logistical and operational beast.

Day one was a near disaster! While the numbers had picked up easily due to heavy promotion, the production, being LIVE, was a nightmare. Almost everything that we’d planned and tested started failing as we went live. The marketing team at Wema, especially my dear friend Zino went into panic mode. Tosin caught an instant fever. He said “Oti I don’t feel too well o, wetin dey happen?!” Zino’s voice grew increasingly annoying. MD was the opening co-host so the atmosphere was tensed up. We managed to patch through and episode 1 went by. We took stock and did a course correction, all hands on deck ready for the next day. 

It got better afterwards, for the next 6 days. We even got Sisi Yemi and some other non-Wema folks to co-host and it was fun. On the last day, it was a party at the studio. I couldn’t believe it. We really pulled it off. The first live gameshow on Facebook Live in the world! We even tried to get Facebook to do some PR around it but they were too unbothered so we song our praises ourselves jare. 

That project was a turning point in Wema Banks digital and youthfulness journey. A new record for digital investment was set. A new customer segment was unlocked. A major shift in brand perception happened, and the entire board became very committed to digital. For the agency, it was an affirmation that creativity, nimbleness and boldness were our greatest assets. Sponge remains one of the greatest characters in the story of the evolution of digital marketing in Nigeria. I still believe a movie would be made out of the Sponge story some day.

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