How to tell the BNPL story creatively?

There is a lot of interest around Buy Now Pay Later (BNPL) recently.

If you read about it, you’d realize that it is nothing new at all – in simple terms, this is an ‘installment option’ usually offered by a bank or a credit card company, repackaged. The fine print would tell you that, unlike banks or credit cards, there is minimum-to-no paperwork and no interest if you pay back the installments in time. If you do not, there is interest, obviously, just like how it would be, with banks or credit cards.

The no-paperwork clause also applies to most credit card-led installment options since they have your payment and credit history already. And yet, there is a tremendous buzz over BNPL. There are tons of brands across the world and many have their own apps with the intention of becoming a shopping destination that lists products (partners of the BNPL brand) that you can buy through the BNPL schemes.

Then there are brands like Amazon Pay Later that offer the BNPL option to their existing customers at the checkout level – choose BNPL, save cash, and pay the amount in smaller installments over a period of time.

Where BNPL differs is in the positioning within the customer journey. A bank or a credit card offering installment option was at the end of the customer’s purchase journey. But BNPL brands hope to influence the consideration and purchase of certain products, categories, or vendors/sellers by putting the thought of pay-later at the start of the journey. So, we look for what we want, make a shortlist and the BNPL option becomes a filter to consider an option from our list. Or, we look at the BNPL app to see what is available in their own shopping interface and choose products from them.

This too isn’t entirely new – leading credit card brands partner with vendors (say, Apple) and mention the kind of installment option that could be availed if you buy the vendor’s (advertised) product. The installment option becomes your gateway to considering the product (if you had that credit card, that is).

But beyond all these category-centric details, what interested me specifically in the BNPL segment is the fact they are saddled with a story to tell that many customers already know through banks and credit cards. So how can the BNPL brands tell their stories interestingly so that we may take a serious look at one brand and perhaps install the app and start buying something?

A related note is about advertising guidelines. India’s ASCI (Advertising Standards Council of India) has not yet issued any specific guidelines for BNPL advertising, but UK’s ASA (Advertising Standards Authority) issues detailed guidelines in December 2020, titled ‘Guidance on advertising delayed payment services‘.

This includes specific notes on,
– Making clear that delayed payments are a form of credit
– Consequences on credit scores and future payments
– Suitability

I looked at many BNPL brands’ advertising across the world to understand how they are communicating, besides what they are communicating. Specifically, I picked 10 brands (4 from India and 6 global) based on the kind of creativity they used to tell their story despite all of them telling the same story! There are many other brands that don’t do creative communication and are doing functional communication, but that’s beyond the purview of my search.

There is a clear line connecting most of them when it comes to telling the story of ease of payments, but there are some interesting nuances as well. Given that all of them are saying the same thing, this is an area for advertising creativity to truly shine and make a difference.

Indian BNPL brands:

1. ZestMoney – Conceptualised by an independent team – Vijay Joseph, Creative lead at ZestMoney, and Deepika Chandrasekaran, Founder, Cock-A-Doodle films.

The core theme seems to be to evoke the question, ‘Can I afford that?’ through 2 routes – gifting and a new phone. The final screen specifies the USPs – 0% interest, no paperwork, digital approvals, and a credit limit that increases as you use. Crux? ‘Get Zest, and pay in parts’.

2. PayU’s Lazypay – Agency: Whiteboard Creative Studio

Besides the Sacred Games-inspired narrative in one of the films, the core thought behind Lazypay’s communication is ‘waiting’. The communication frames the user unable to make a decision as ‘waiting’. Enter Lazypay as a hero that avoids the ‘waiting’ and lets the user do what they wanted to do immediately. Lazypay also uses the phrase ‘instant personal loan up to Rs. 100,000’ (after ‘stop waiting’), but doesn’t mention the interest element in repayment while mentioning paperless application, instant approval, and instant disbursement (since it is framed clearly as a loan). Lazypay is the only among the 10 here that uses loan as the value proposition – ‘Instant personal loan’.

3. BharatPe’s PostPe – Agency: Unknown

PostPe makes a strong pitch by offering an easily understood version of BNPL – ‘De Dena Aaram Se’. The ad film uses that catchy line in the form of a catchy rap jingle and the USPs in the end – shop anywhere, pay next month, easy EMI. Observe that there is no mention of interest.

4. MobiKwik ZIP – Agency: GingerMonkey

MobiKwik’s framing is interesting because it includes two categories that go beyond non-essential purchases (which is in the 3rd ad, where a girl wants to buy a pair of slippers) – bill payment and medicines (both essential expenses). Most payment apps offer bill payment facilities and MobiKwik utilizes that segment too for the BNPL pitch. Also, there is a clear ceiling limit mentioned for the credit—get up to Rs. 30,000 without interest—making the pitch very clear and specific. The tone is almost like ‘end of the month? Short of cash? Extend your credit by Rs. 30,000 without paying interest on repayment’. MobiKwik appropriates Buy Now Pay Later to Spend now, pay later.

Global BNPL brands:

1. Zebit – Agency: Unknown

The communication is mighty direct – buy now, pay over six months! And Zebit positions itself as a shopping destination by showcasing the product screen that looks just like an e-commerce website. So Zebit becomes the destination for you to search for what you want and makes the payment as an incidental process towards the closure. Crux? ‘Everyday shopping, for everyday people, with everyday credit’!

2. Affirm – Agency: Momentum, Toronto

Called ‘Holiday Smart’ campaign and timed for the end-of-the-year festivities, Affirm’s communication spends an inordinate amount of time in establishing a stressful activity and the last eight seconds on the supposedly ‘smart’ option of paying at your own pace with Affirm. The final screen offers 3 USPs – no late fees, no gotchas, no regrets, implying interest, and easy-to-understand fine print. The crux is ‘pay at your own pace’.

3. Afterpay – Agency: Afterpay Brand Studio (inhouse)

Afterpay uses Australian actor Rebel Wilson to front their communication. There is an interesting line of thought in the ad series where Rebel is trying to explain what Afterpay is using easy-to-comprehend equivalents like ‘if you could eat a whole tub of ice cream and spread the calories over 6 weeks’. In another ad Rebel sees two other women trying to lift a heavy piece of furniture and one of them exclaims, ‘if we could just break it up into pieces’, and Rebel adds, ‘Exactly! Sorry, that’s a really good metaphor for what Afterpay is like’ and the spot ends with ‘pay in 4 pieces’. Afterpay is trying hard to make it seem different in the BNPL universe by adding, ‘Don’t just pay later. Pay Better. Choose Afterpay’, but without mentioning why Afterpay is not just pay-later but pay-better even as the communication is exactly about pay-later.

4. Klarna – Agency: Assorted.

Swedish BNPL brand Klarna is making a big pitch in the US and the brand has been working with multiple agencies for many different campaigns. Some of the brand’s earlier ads are plain bizarre, like the one from 2018, called ‘Smoooth payments’. To illustrate ‘smooth’, the ad (by the agency Nord DDB) shows something totally unrelated but I guess the objective is much like the CRED ads – show something completely different and never-before-seen and merely ride on that novelty factor.

But some of the newer ads of Klarna showcase some sparkling creativity, thankfully!

The 2019 UK campaign by Saatchi & Saatchi showcases Klarna’s tie-up with Expedia, the travel booking company, and uses what PayU’s Lazypay is using in India now – ‘wait’ (or, ‘why wait?’). The creative device used is clever – showcase famous travel spots across the world after their peak season and blame it on the ‘wait’. Enter Klarna – why wait?

Earlier in 2021, Klarna launched a Superbowl ad, made by the agency Mirimar. This ad has a fantastic visual device to communicate the offering’s USP, ‘pay in 4 small payments’, and takes that message literally to hammer it! The ad stars Saturday Night Live Maya Rudolph in 4 avatars, but with a twist 🙂

5. Beforepay – Agency: Zoo Republic

If Klarna’s Superbowl ad was creative, Beforepay’s ad takes the creativity up a notch! The framing is fantastic – ‘Access your pay from the future, today’! And to tell the story, the ad uses a creative device that I had written about back in March 2021 – meeting your future self! Beforepay’s ad campaign launched in July 2021.

There are 2 ads in the series and both are interlinked, to make it even more interesting.

6. Scalapay – Agency: Buzzman, Paris

And finally, Scalapay from France! The French agency Buzzman uses a brilliant visual device to illustrate the value proposition: ‘take your time to enjoy, take your time to pay’. The idea is to show only those people who are enjoying what they bought (via Scalapay, of course) in slow-motion while the world around them moves at normal speed! The communication is the same – pay later, in smaller parts… but the framing is ‘take your time to pay’. Clever!

The most interesting aspect is that all these brands and agencies are supposed to sell the same point over and over again, but they come at it from different perspectives. Some make merely incremental variations to the core (buy now pay later) message, but some of them go beyond the functional and use creativity to offer more vibrant depictions!



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