TD Bank’s “Human” Initiatives: Marketing Strategy or Marketing Tactic, Powerful Marketing Success or Expensive Marketing Radar Blip?


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On a bright Friday this past Summer, 20,000 TD Bank employees across Canada distributed green envelopes containing a $20 bill to every customer who came into its more than 1,100 branches in the ‘True North’. A total of 30,000 customers received a nice little surprise that day.

This promotion was supplemented by an even bigger, and more original, splash. TD Bank created an “Automated Thanking Machine”, in which an in-branch ATM delivered special ‘thank you’ moments for more than a dozen customers. The transformed ATMs spoke directly to customers who had been recruited by TD Bank staff, awarding flowers, tickets for vacations, and other unexpected goodies.

TD Bank produced a video showing the interchanges between the customers and the ATMs which was used in advertising throughout Canada. But, that was only the beginning. The video created an immediate positive emotional reaction, even among the most jaded and seasoned marketing and advertising pros, and it went viral (seen by more than 3,000,000 people to date) faster than any other banking promotion in history:

The Canadian promotion came, by a few months, on the heels of a refreshed marketing and advertising campaign TD Bank launched in the U.S. Its theme was “Bank Human Again”, originally introduced in 2013, and the focus was on extolling TD’s more human and convenient branch experience. The campaign was leveraged across a variety of platforms in addition to TV: digital, social media, and public relations.

TD Bank’s branch and corporate marketing approaches are, essentially, a continuity strategy built on the concepts originated by Commerce Bank in the U.S., a company purchased by TD in 2007 (and, as well, annexed its ‘America’s Most Convenient Bank’ title, awarded by J. D. Power). Some of the key differentiators of TD Bank, through its 1,300 branch ‘stores’ from Maine to Florida, are:

– Longer hours
– Open weekends
– In-bank coin counters, available to customers and non-customers
– Lollipops for the kids, treats for pets
– Keep the pen (it’s not on a chain)
– Instant debit card issuance
– Proactive employees
– Local community orientation
– Sponsorship of area civic and charitable events
– Advanced web functionality

As evidence that the campaign has seen a level of success, TD Bank can point to increased brand awareness (up 9 points at program peak), and growth in checking accounts (about 14% in TD Bank’s top five U.S. markets).

Truth be told, inertia and desire for service continuity have kept me a TD Bank customer, because prior to the merger I was also a customer of Commerce Bank; and I’d be hard-pressed to identify any real differences between what Commerce did then, what TD Bank is doing now, and what more recent Vernon Hill bank concepts like Metro (U.K.) and Republic (U.S.) are beginning to offer:

So, the key marketing and experience optimization questions:

– Are what TD Bank is doing in the U.S. and Canada effective strategies, designed to demonstrate long-term customer value, or are they attention-getting, rather out-of-the-box promotional tactics?

– Will they have lasting customer-related rewards for TD Bank as marketing techniques, or are they closer to being once-and-done and tactical ploys?

TD Bank is clearly “banking” that the emotional response these humanistic initiatives have created will sustain. As my colleague Maz Iqbal has written, it is to be determined whether service design which yields superior customer experiences will win the day over promotions and positioning ( )

Michael Lowenstein, PhD CMC
Michael Lowenstein, PhD CMC, specializes in customer and employee experience research/strategy consulting, and brand, customer, and employee commitment and advocacy behavior research, consulting, and training. He has authored seven stakeholder-centric strategy books and 400+ articles, white papers and blogs. In 2018, he was named to CustomerThink's Hall of Fame.


  1. Hello Michael,

    If I were asked to make a bet I’d bet that this course of action is a result of ‘strategic thinking’ rather than genuine-passionate commitment to valuing-celebrating customers as flesh and blood human beings.

    I’ll go further and say it is almost certain that this is the case. I remember the KLM video that did the rounds. These are course of action that 1) play to the needs of many who lead lives devoid of genuine humanity as warm-meaningful relationships; and 2) they are easy to share and worth sharing on social networks.

    For genuinely human relating, which is always emotional-spiritual- to occur a supportive context has to be in place. Who puts that context in place? The tempting answer is ‘all of us’ the more awkward reality is those in power. And what is it that those in power strive for? It occurs to me that the answer was provided by one of the Matrix trilogy of films. Neo poses the question to the wife of the most powerful man around. She answer something to the effect “He wants what all men of power want: more power”.

    I wish you a great day and thank you for your kind words. I find is a honour to be considered your colleague.

    At your service / with gratitude

  2. Michael,
    Good question about the return on TD’s investment. I also wrote about the campaign:
    There is tremendous power in warmth and competence. If you haven’t picked up the Human Brand by Chris Malone and Susan T. Fiske, I’d highly recommend it. Here’s a review:
    I agree with both you and Maz. These efforts have to be more of a commitment and less of a campaign.

  3. There’s nothing wrong with a high-visibility PR campaign, particularly one that achieves awareness and customer engagement. The proof of a successful marketing campaign, however is in the results. Whether exposure is the outcome, or whether it’s one component in a broader marketing strategy is yet to be determined. It’s not hard to create awareness, as Leo Burnett once said, walking down a staircase with a sock in your mouth will grab attention. But TD is probably hoping for more than that.

  4. Stan –

    Thanks for your comment. In fact, I know Chris Malone very well and worked with him in a consultative and research leadership role before he formed Fidelum. Regarding warmth and competence, agree that these, i;e the functional/rational and emotional/relationship, are perhaps the most important elements of perceived value delivery; however, the concept was very well understood well before the book of Malone and Fiske:


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