Innovation Insights

Sparking change in how we talk about banking

2 Feb 2018

DBS shares true stories from the bank in first ever mini-series, Sparks

In an industry-first move, DBS launched, in 2016, a mini-series about a group of young bankers. Inspired by true stories, Sparks shows how these bankers challenge the status quo and go above and beyond when solving unusual client challenges.

The mini-series was a risk – the investment was high, the approach untested in the industry – but the carefully calculated gamble paid off.

The bank has just launched its eighth episode. The first seven episodes and their trailers garnered more than 100 million views and over 11 million digital engagements across the region.

Watch SPARKS mini-series – Episode 8: A Big Deal 12:58

In the first year of its launch, the mini-series took home the accolade for Best Film and Video in the Asia-Pacific Excellence Awards. Its episodes consistently rank among the top 10 YouTube ads, a showcase of ads that most resonate with Singaporean viewers.

More recently in October 2017, Sparks clinched the Gold Award in Digital Marketing at the global Efma-Accenture 2017 Distribution & Marketing Innovation Awards, a first-time win for DBS.

What was the initial spark that ignited the creation of this mini-series? Karen Ngui, Managing Director and Head of Group Strategic Marketing and Communications, shares her views.

How did the idea for Sparks come about?

We wanted to convey the true meaning of banking, and challenge the perception that banking is only about transactions. We wanted to reflect the bank’s commitment to understanding what matters in our customers’ life, and integrating banking seamlessly with everyday living. We felt the best way to do this would be to show, rather than tell.

As such, we came up with Sparks the mini-series, which is inspired by true stories we’ve gathered from across the bank. We have got series about lawyers, doctors, policemen and so on – we thought, why not do something about bankers and banking?

The mini-series shows, through the bankers’ experiences and interactions with clients, how DBS listens to customers, and designs products and services in ways that address their needs and alleviate concerns. Although banking is usually associated with money and numbers, at the core it is about people.

Read more: How tech startup Zaya Learning Labs, the inspiration for Sparks episode 6, brings high-quality education to low-income students in India

What compelled you to bring storytelling into marketing?

DBS is moving towards a new model of marketing where we produce content that creates conversations and experiences for our consumers, with the aim of winning hearts and minds, at scale. This involves innovative storytelling and engaging consumers on social platforms with bite-sized pieces of shareable, authentic content.

As we continuously look to redefine banking, this is one of our ways of disrupting the industry via digitally oriented content marketing – we are the first in the industry to produce Sparks, and we hope that this will be a gamechanger.

At DBS, the marketing team has worked hard to earn a seat at the leadership table. The reason we achieved recognition is because we are able to think broadly and understand the challenges the bank is going through.

Watch DBS Bank - Winner in Digital Marketing category at #DMIAwards17 3:09

What has been the response to Sparks? What is your measure of success?

Consumer reaction has been great. Based on feedback, we believe we have connected with people on a deep level. The series has resonated both externally and internally within the bank. We realised, over time, that what spurred us to conceive this mini-series – to tell authentic stories – also made it relevant to viewers and endeared us to them.

Nonetheless, our journey is one of continual learning and optimisation. To further engage our viewers, we listen to what they say and tailor our content to align with their interests, while keeping to our core messaging.

For instance, after the launch of Sparks episodes 1-3, we started to notice online chatter on the romantic possibilities between two of the characters, Claire and Jasper. We used this insight from our social listening tool to craft the narrative for subsequent episodes to keep these Sparks fans engaged.

After building awareness of the bank and what we do, how does the mini-series impact acquisition? We deployed attribution modelling for two of the episodes and found that for the SME and consumer business in Hong Kong, 11.6% and 5.6% of new acquisitions, respectively, can be attributed to customers who watched Sparks.

Beyond regular offers and promos, Sparks materially communicates what the bank stands for. This, we feel, creates a more enduring sense of competitive advantage.

Why is it important to innovate when it comes to marketing? What do you think is the way forward?

At the end of the day, as brands and marketers, our ability to have full control of communication is slowly diminishing. Consumers can now switch messages “off” easily. It’s no longer about interruption marketing.

Instead, it’s about immersive marketing – stepping out of the banking world and being a part of our customers’ lives; being on the sidelines but always present when it matters and stepping in when it counts. The data we have enables us to better target audiences and understand their needs.

We also can’t stress enough on the importance of UX – developing interaction-rich experiences will improve the performance of the content we put out.

Going forward, I think this trend of immersive marketing is here to stay and it’s only going to be more prevalent. The use of marketing technology is going to increase and we’d like to do more in-moment marketing, so we can be at the right place at the right time, and blend seamlessly into our customers’ lives.

The Making of the “DBS SPARKS” mini-series 2:52

Sparks won Gold in Digital Marketing at the global Efma-Accenture 2017 Distribution & Marketing Innovation Awards. What is the significance of this innovation award win?

Winning this innovation award is a huge vote of confidence from our industry counterparts that we’re moving ahead in the right direction. The award wasn’t just based on a panel of judges but was voted on globally by EFMA members. It’s a timely reinforcement of our commitment to understanding what matters in life, and integrating banking seamlessly with everyday living.

Beyond Sparks, we were proud to also accept other innovation-related awards at EFMA: Wallet & Payments Awards (Silver) and Global Innovator – Established Player Award (Bronze). These awards are testament that beyond marketing and communications, DBS is indeed at the forefront of leveraging digital technology to shape the future of banking.

Find out more about Sparks at

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