The world is facing complex sustainability-related challenges – social, environmental and developmental – many of which have been worsened by the Covid-19 pandemic. As a purpose-driven organisation, we believe businesses like ours have a role to play in helping to find solutions to these challenges. In line with DBS’ brand promise, Live More Bank Less, we also want to encourage our stakeholders to live larger than themselves by being socially conscious. Given the influx of content competing for attention in today’s information age, it is essential to think out-of-the-box and leverage a unique story-telling vehicle to engage a broad-based audience on sustainability issues, in a manner that does not come across as self-righteous or preachy. We recognise that savvy millennial and Gen Z audiences are most receptive to authentic stories that they can connect with emotionally.
We decided our industry-first online mini-series Sparks would be an ideal platform for us to raise awareness about the importance of sustainability, and highlight the ways businesses and individuals can drive positive change. The mini-series format enables us to go beyond disruptive marketing and take a contextualised approach to engage audiences where many of them are most active today– online. The longer format of a mini-series also enables us to tell relatable stories of banking with a purpose with more depth, as opposed to traditional 30s/60s TVCs. With Sparks Season 2, we hope to raise awareness and galvanise action around society’s key sustainability challenges, and shine a spotlight on social enterprises (SEs) as businesses-for-good.
The first season of DBS Sparks challenged the perception that banking is purely transactional. Focusing on a group of DBS bankers who go above and beyond to solve client challenges, it garnered over 250 million views across Asia. Encouraged by Season 1’s popularity, we launched Sparks Season 2 (S2) in 2019, which is still on-going – the final episode will premiere in Q1 2021. Themed “Everyday Heroes for a Better World”, every Sparks S2 episode is inspired by an actual social enterprise (SE) supported by the DBS Foundation, which was established in 2015 to champion social entrepreneurship in Asia. SEs featured in Sparks S2 include Bettr Barista (Singapore), which helps marginalised individuals regain self-sufficiency through jobs training in coffee brewing, Eco-Greenergy (Hong Kong), which upcycles food waste by converting it into innovative products such as compostable cutlery, and REmakeHub (China), which provides circular solutions to address waste pollution in the fashion industry.
As Sparks S2 is distributed digitally via YouTube and other online platforms, we employ a strong digital amplification strategy to promote the series. For video ads on Facebook and YouTube, retargeting and customised interest targeting are crucial in boosting video viewership and lowering cost per view. After launching the first 3 episodes in June 2019 on YouTube, we constructed specific user journeys to ensure exposure to all 3 episodes, leveraging the reach and the new retargeting capabilities of YouTube Masthead audience pools (Fig 1).
We also create high shareability content on social media platforms to amplify episode reach and drive buzz. Various creative formats (quizzes, Instagram stories, etc) are used to drive content engagement. For instance, to promote Episode 4, The Trash Princess, focused on sustainable fashion, we created an augmented reality game ‘Fashion Slowdown’ (Fig 2) to drive home the message that everyone can contribute to a more sustainable future just by shopping less. 160,000 users played the game within the first 2 months, generating significant traction for Sparks as well.
As the mini-series progressed, we also recognised a steady pool of fans that has grown with Sparks. We began rolling out engagement-driven initiatives on social media (e.g. concert giveaways in pre-pandemic times) to reward these advocates. A microsite (Fig 3) was also built to deepen engagement with the fan community, and foster brand love by making other brand-related content (e.g. articles and videos) discoverable.
Pre-pandemic, we complemented our digital strategy with physical events. To support the launch of Episode 4, The Trash Princess, focused on sustainable fashion, we hosted a clothes swap at one of our office locations to encourage more sustainable fashion choices among employees. Over 200kg of clothing was swopped, equivalent to saving more than 375,000 litres of water compared to if our employees had bought new clothes instead. For Episode 7, A Call to Action, launched during the pandemic, we pivoted to holding a livestream launch event with popular Singapore influencers via Facebook Live (Fig 4). The episode itself had been filmed entirely in video conference format to adhere to social distancing restrictions.
Sparks Season 2 has garnered 270 million views and 9 million digital engagements to date, indicating wide audience reach. More importantly, as we continue to champion the sustainability themes featured in the Sparks episodes, we have witnessed a perception shift on sustainability-related issues among our viewers. Based on post-episode polls, close to 40% of viewers say they feel inspired to adopt more sustainable practices, among other things.
The SEs featured have also seen an increase in business enquiries and website traffic following their episodes, indicating a clear willingness by Sparks viewers to support businesses-for-good. Bettr Barista (Singapore) and Eco-Greenergy (Hong Kong) saw a 40% and 35% increase in website traffic respectively, while LongGood (Taiwan) and REmakeHub (China) saw queries for their products and solutions increase by more than 10%.
Sparks Season 2 has also been honoured with numerous industry accolades, including the award for Purpose-Driven Communications at Reuters Events’ Ethical Corporation Responsible Business Awards 2020, the Gold Standard Award for Broadcast and Video at PublicAffairs Asia’s Gold Standard Awards 2020, and a win in the “Financial Services” category at PRovoke’s 2020 SABRE Awards Asia-Pacific.
‘DBS has transformed the notion of "heroes" through a TV series approach to capture the attention of its audience on the importance of sustainability while providing tangible solutions. Original, humorous, on the edge at times, but definitely full of real messages and solutions to captivate viewers benefiting both business and communities…A clear winner.’ – Winner’s Citation (Purpose-Driven Communications), Reuters Events’ Ethical Corporation Responsible Business Awards 2020