How Publicis & Citibank’s #WhatsYourSummerEscape achieved highest ever monthly card spends

Case study by Publicis & Citibank on the promotional summer campaign designed to drive card spends, under the category: 'Best use of Social network' for LI Digital Awards 2017


The Client

Committed to India for over 110 years, Citibank N.A., India takes pride in being a premier locally embedded financial institution, backed by an unmatched global network. Citi’s presence in India spans 45 branches across 28 cities and is the preferred banker to 45,000 small and mid-sized companies across India.

The Agency

Publicis groupe is third largest communications group in the world. A globally networked agency across 103 countries and with 233 offices offering strategic, creative, digital solutions to the brands.

Problem Statement

Market Context: Travel is coming of age in India
The earlier generations focused on savings, building houses and getting big cars, but there is a new ambition that has surpassed these in the last few years – it’s their travel ambition.

  • Online penetration in travel bookings is estimated to increase from 41% in 2014 to 46% in 2017 (Travel Biz Monitor)
  • 44% of Indian travelers would increase their travel budget in 2016 (Indian Express)
  • Increase in number of budget hotels, 150 new airports by 2020, increase in middle class disposable income (Travel Biz Monitor)
  • Rise in alternate accommodations - Share of homestays, experiential camps, service apartments will jump to 20% in 2016 (Business Wire)

Relevance for a Credit Card brand: Travel activates cards spending habit
The reason why this campaign is very crucial for Citi is because Travel is one of the key spends categories accounting for 24% of total card spends for Citi. Travel also helps build stickiness for the brand as with increase in travel spends, the overall card spends also see an increase.

Right time to strike: What better time than summer?

  • Indians are keen to escape from the scorching heat and are turning to overseas travel every summer season (Skyscanner travel trends, 14-15)
  • Students and teachers get 6 - 12 weeks off for summers (which is the longest break in the year), making it the perfect time to travel with family

Category Narrative: Best holiday at the cheapest cost
With every bank trying to get a piece of this big pie, there is an avalanche of deals and discounts on flights and hotels. The language of sale and percentages is indistinguishable and it is very easy to get missed in this clutter.


While discounts are category hygiene, they don’t help build consumer affinity

When asked, most people cannot recall the credit card they had used to book their last flight ticket. They usually go with the cheapest deal available. Even though the Citi offers were impressive, there was a need to identify a way to connect with the consumers at an emotional level in addition to the discounts.

Identified Objectives

Objective: Becoming the preferred travel partner

Citi was aiming at a dual objective. While it was easy to drive business through mere discounts or a highly emotional ad could get us shares, our job was to make sure that we do well for the brand and the business by being the preferred travel partner. Citi wanted to be present throughout the customers’ travel journey beginning from search & booking to eventually sharing experiences via uniquely positioned integrated thematic campaign built around a deep consumer insight:

  1. Drive Card Spends: Achieve growth of 10% over last year during the same period (May-June’ 16 vs May-June’15)
  2. Drive Travel Spends: Achieve growth of 10% over last year during the same period. (May-June’ 16 vs May-June’15)

The Strategy/Execution

Understanding our customer

Observation 1:  The brand and consumer divide
We observed that brands and consumers were communicating in different languages. Our consumers were talking about experiences & constantly updating their Facebook walls with new travel stories. For them, travel had become the new social currency. However, the entire category was talking about deals, discounts, offers and miles. We did not want to be stuck in this petty price war.

Our customers love discounts but they also aspire unique experiences. So we thought of changing the category narrative to something more meaningful

Observation 2:  Every traveler has his or her own perspective
Listening closely to the social chatter we observed something very unique. While many people were traveling to the same place their perspectives were very different. Everyone had a different narrative for the same place – for some it was history, for others it was food and so on. This meant that every destination offered a unique travel story for different people. Everyone found and loved their own reflection in the city that they visited.


Different people visit the same destination but come back with their own unique  stories


Only you can tell your own travel story

Citi adopted a ‘social first’ strategy, which meant that every idea, execution and media selection was filtered through a social networking lens. Citi’s travel campaign was phased out in three steps:

Step 1: A dialogue and not just a monologue

We did not want to push our offers to our consumers, we wanted to have a conversation with them. With the consumer getting ready to plan their vacation this summer, we led our communication with a conversational-social expression: #WhatsYourSummerEscape, to get them talking about their unique travel experiences.

Step 2: Use of innovative content led media deployment as a conversation catalyst

a) Slice-of-life brand videos
Targeted at the digital savvy urban travelers, we started the communication by sharing two creative renditions of our insight, ‘Different people visit the same destination but come back with their own unique story’. These stories were executed in a ‘Slice-of-life’ manner, sprinkled with sublet humor, making them highly relatable and share-worthy.

b) The Bait: 360 degree videos
Taking our 360 degree campaign quite literally, we planted highly immersive 360 degree videos and images of scenic international locations on Facebook to entice our customers through a virtual escape. It acted as bait for the already vacation hungry customers.

c) Influencer marketing to start the travel movement
Reaching out to a diverse set of fan base, Citi leveraged key influencers/celebrities from all walks of life (bollywood, photography, sports & reality TV) to seed conversations around their unique perspectives for a common destination. People were not only excited to get a seek peak into the lives of their favorite celebrities, they were excited about sharing their perspectives with them.


d) #WhatsYourSummerEscape contest
There’s not a single vacation we take, without posting evidence of it on our Facebook wall. Tapping into this insight, Citi made its page the official hub for sharing travel stories on Facebook. This got the social media buzzing with posts about unique summer escape stories!

Step 3: Disrupting the purchase cycle

Finding a natural fit into the travel journey
The usual route for someone making a travel booking is Research -> Finalize The Plan > Find Offers > Make the bookings. We wanted to change the game with our first ever long term strategic partnership in travel space with Citi TripAdvisor integration. This helped us to target the customers at the time they were researching about their upcoming vacation. Hence, this helped build brand consideration early in the path to purchase for both card acquisition & card usage.

Native Advertising- Flight & Dining Offer Integration
A contextual, seamless and non-obtrusive approach was taken to place relevant ads while a consumer was researching on TripAdvisor.


Citi became a part of consumer’s travel journey by crowdsourcing unique travel stories in consumer’s own words.
The impact of #WhatsYourSummerEscape campaign: (Source: Citi Internal Data)


  1. Highest ever monthly card spends (in May’16 & June ’16) - 15% increase YOY against a target of 10%. (Source: Citibank)
  2. Highest ever monthly card travel spends (in May’16 and June’16)  – 12% increase YOY against a target of 10% (Source : Citibank)



  • 6MM Citi brand videos Views:
    Over 6MM video views across digital & social channels such as Facebook, YouTube, Hotstar, and mobile network.
  • 5MM reach & 1MM 360 degree video views
    Citi released 360 degree engaging video content on Facebook (a Citi First Initiative).
  • 6MM reach for #WhatsYourSummerEscape
    Highest ever reach of any Citibank India Facebook campaign.
  • Engagement Score – 1000/1000
    Engagement Score – 1000/1000 (Highest possible score). BFSI segment score during same time – 661.
  • 35% Fan base increase
    Citi FB Page fan base witnessed over 35% growth reaching a total of  1MM fans.
  • Media Coverage
    Coverage by popular blogs and websites such as Afaqs, Mad over marketing  & HolidayIQ.
  • Activated the largest travel digital hotspot: TripAdvisor
    Campaign delivered a massive 10MM Impressions with CTRs at 3 times the TripAdvisor benchmark & over 9M Citibank online website visits. Citi – TripAdvisor cobranded content & offers hub witnessed an above industry average dwell time of 4 mins.

Apart from creating brand, business and customer impact, our campaign became a headline maker with #WhatsYourSummerEscape becoming one of the most popular search terms on Facebook during campaign and coverage by popular blogs and website.


  1. A new way of looking at promotional campaigns: While delivering on business objectives, we successfully exhibited that promotional campaigns can be weaved into a human story to achieve greater success.
  2. Anti-Category Narrative: While entire category was asking people to travel for discounts, we finally made travel the hero again. Anti-category, but pro-culture.
  3. Hitting the bull’s eye - Business, Brand and Consumers: While most promotional campaigns fail to achieve one of the three, our unique approach helped us create business, brand and consumer impact.

Here’s the case study video: