—CIBC’s new ad campaign is based on an imagined scenario of therapy dogs helping people relax when talking personal finances. But Eric Blais wonders if the scenario might be too believable—
Toronto-based Corporate Canine Therapy provides trained therapy dogs to promote productivity and well-being by offering therapeutic visits to offices and private spaces. Canine therapy has been shown to reduce stress levels, provide comfort, and even lower blood pressure. While most of the services offered are therapeutic, the company also provides canines for advertising and film work. It must be a way to keep Champ, Bobo, Bacon, and Luna busy in downtimes.
This blurring of the line between canine therapy and thespianism brings me to CIBC’s latest advertising, featuring what it calls Financial Stress Companions. (Read The Message’s story here.)
Therapy dogs help vulnerable populations like people in hospice care or hospitals, and people suffering from high anxiety and stress. Students cramming for finals can benefit from therapy dogs as a method of stress reduction, as can stressed-out workers. Organizations like the Washington state-based non-profit Pet Partners host therapy animal events at companies such as Google, Aetna, and Farmers Insurance.
But could therapy dogs help people who feel stressed when talking about their personal finances and financial planning? That appears to be the question that inspired a new campaign from CIBC and its recently hired agency, Courage.
To be sure, financial anxiety is a big deal. According to a 2022 survey by the FP Canada Institute, which provides professional education to financial planners, one in three Canadians (35%) say financial stress is leading to anxiety, depression, or mental health issues.
Every big bank would like to believe its financial planners can help their clients with that anxiety. But CIBC and Courage seemingly realized it would be difficult to stand out with another ad about its financial advisors, whereas an experiment with canine therapy to relieve financial anxiety would grab people’s attention. After all, it’s been well documented that babies and puppies in ads can elicit positive consumer responses.
Before I go further, I should say that our firm worked with CIBC for the past decade, providing French adaptations of national campaigns for the Quebec market until new agency partners were hired last fall. What follows is not sour grapes—the firm is doing just fine. This is simply what I would have said if I was still working on the brand.
I might be naive, but I suspect I am not alone in believing it’s possible that CIBC could actually be offering some sort of canine therapy to its customers. If banks can offer free iPads and Nespresso coffee makers just for opening an account, it’s possible they could include canine therapy as part of consultations with financial advisors.
As reported by The Message, “this was a one-time experiment captured for film to deliver a larger message about CIBC.” And senior vice-president of marketing Tammy Sadinsky said they liked the dogs idea as “a metaphor for the way talking to one of our advisors makes people feel.”
But I’m not sure everyone will get the metaphor.
The advertising suggests that the “experiment” had a positive impact on customers’ financial stress levels. I suspect many will assume that CIBC is now offering this solution to other customers. The descriptive text accompanying the video online claims that CIBC “introduced Financial Stress Companions, a CIBC experiment, to help people have a real talk about their money. Because that’s the first step to a real solution. Visit CIBC.com to book a chat with one of our advisors and get started.”
The television spot and in-branch poster featuring a woman hugging a therapy dog suggest to me that Financial Stress Companions is a real program. It’s capitalized, which usually indicates it’s a proprietary program. It is made even more plausible by the television spot’s narrative, which begins with what looks like an authentic testimonial from a customer who is stressed about his money situation. The closing super, with the invitation to have a “real” talk about money, further suggests the whole thing is real, and I could not see the usual bank disclaimer that “conditions apply.”
One commentator on CIBC’s Instagram post wrote, “Hold on… is it a real experiment or a joke? Love the idea if it’s a real pilot.”
I had the same question, so I visited the nearest CIBC branch to inquire about getting a Financial Stress Companion. I briefly met with an advisor and asked him if a long-time customer like me could get access to the canine therapy provided by the bank’s new Financial Stress Companion. He answered with a smile: “That’s just marketing.” That’s a risky experiment for a bank that wants to make its customers’ ambitions real by being real in all it does.
Eric Blais is the president of Headspace Marketing, a consultancy that helps marketers build brands in Quebec.