A platypus walks into a bar…

First Direct has recruited a beat boxing bird, a CGI platypus and a live zebra for a new campaign aimed at attracting younger customers.

First Direct has recruited a beat boxing bird, a CGI platypus and a live zebra for a new campaign aimed at attracting younger customers.

Promoting itself as “the unexpected bank”, First Direct has launched a series of print ads bearing slogans such as “We’re the zebra in a stable full of horses” and a TV ad starring a platypus from East London named Barry.

The ad follows Barry taking a stroll through his local neighbourhood, where he has a rummage in a vintage vinyl store; a ride on his neighbour’s mobility scooter and a nice cold pint in the pub. As he explains to the camera, he’s an offbeat character, which is why he banks with First Direct. “They do things differently. They’re not into that automated recording malarky – you get through to a friendly human who gets things sorted,” he says.

In a further attempt to emphasise the bank’s quirky approach, the ad also features a bird that beat boxes instead of chirps and a zebra wandering around the capital’s Columbia Road.

The campaign is the latest in a series from high street banks aiming to convince consumers that they’re friendly and caring at a time when bankers are, according to opinion polls, less trusted than estate agents (but more than journalists and politicians). Clydesdale and Yorkshire Bank adopted a similar approach with their new campaigns highlighting their commitment to local communities.

First Direct’s is aimed at a younger audience and focuses more on quirkiness and being different, which explains the menagerie of exotic animals roaming the East End.

“We were looking for a creative ad that really stood out – as the platypus is half bird, half mammal, he’s a bit of an oddball – a bit like us as a bank,” explains Lisa Wood, marketing director at First Direct.

Barry was created by the Motion Picture Company. Working with Outsider and JWT, who led the campaign, MPC’s VFX team (led by Anthony Bloor and Chrys Aldred) developed a 3D model using ZBrush before animating him using CGI.

Keen to avoid an over-expressive, Disney-like character, the team paid close attention to Barry’s walk, hand gestures and body movements, and gave him a rather lovely fur coat using MPC’s Furtility programme. After the fur was applied, it has to be combed and groomed in different directions, as animator Tim van Hussen explains in a video on the making of the ad (below).

Barry took around ten weeks to create and props including a cardboard cut out and a stuffed otter were used in his place during filming.

“Creating a CGI platypus witch such a unique character was fantastic challenge. Barry is a cheeky individual with very distinct movements. We have worked on many CG characters in the past and making sure that all movements are photo-realistic is our absolute focus and commitment,” says Bloor.

In print, First Direct’s campaign is certainly bold, but relying solely on outlandish metaphors risks it being perceived as gimmicky – it might be time for banks to take a new approach to advertising before consumers grow tired of these fun, friendly and informal campaigns.

On TV though, MPC’s excellent animation ensures the ad is a memorable one that lives up to the bank’s promise of delivering the unexpected.


Creative Director:  Jason Berry
Art Director: Kevin Masters
Copy Writer: Miles Bingham
Director: Dom and Nic
Production Company: Outsider
Creative Director: Jake Mengers
VFX Supervisor: Chrys Aldred
CG Supervisor: Anthony Bloor
Lead Animator: Tim van Hussen

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