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From the 15th Annual Shorty Awards

HACKED YouTube Series

Winner in Video Series

Finalist in Financial Services


Sallie Mae wants to help students find all the free money they can to pay for their education — before turning to loans. But students and their parents are typically bombarded with overly-complex financial services content on a daily basis. We needed a way to cut through the clutter and provide this audience with an engaging and informative resource to help them “hack” paying for college. And if we could positively shift perception of Sallie Mae in the process — on their journey to be seen as a "student support system" and not just a loan company — even better.

We knew that reaching these cynical Gen Zers would be no easy task. Having already lived through two financial recessions before they finished puberty, they’re rightfully jaded. Only 10% trust the government and only 6% trust corporations.

So how do you break through? How does a bank get the attention of The Youth without being cringey? We found out 85% of teens use YouTube as their search engine, instead of Google. And where they ask questions, we wanted to give answers – not with an ad or an article, but with a YouTube series. Across six episodes, we would turn boring financial mumbo jumbo into a story that was not only easy to understand, but engaging to watch, and beautiful to look at.

Strategy and Execution

To help students “hack” paying for college, avoid taking out unnecessary loans and gain control of their financial life, we made an animated series called HACKED. To garner the most interest and attention possible, we wanted to make our content look, sound and feel like our audience’s #1 form of entertainment: video games. Suddenly, application deadlines became a race in a futuristic cyberspace maze. Financial aid packages became shifting mountains of gold. Topics like the FAFSA and scholarships became a gamified, immersive experience that we carefully crafted to hold our viewers’ famously fickle attention.

We were inspired by classic video games like Zelda and Halo, making applications and deadlines feel like quests and time trials. We designed the modern and universal “Player One” to resemble today’s students so they could see themselves in the character. With an epic custom soundtrack and narration from actor and award-winning video game VO artist Troy Baker — every element was crafted to make the story as immersive as possible. A combination of Maya, Blender, Unreal Engine, Animate & After Effects brought the animation to life.

Reaching our highly-skeptical audience was an uphill battle. Plus, we had only six weeks to produce each episode — including creating the two-minute animation from scratch and composing the custom score. We knew finding the right voice for the series was imperative, so after a long search, we found Troy Baker just four days before the first episode went live. It was a sprint to the finish!


HACKED was designed to get the attention of high school and college students and their parents. Costing only $0.03 per view, we’ve received 12.9 million views worth of this audience's attention through the series so far. And with a 63% average view rate on a 2+ minute video combined with an average watch time of 1 minute and 12 seconds per episode, we blew past the industry benchmark by 46%.

As Sallie Mae continues to deliver on their goal of being viewed as a "student support system" and not just a loan company, their efforts have yielded positive results in brand perception among consumers. From 2021 to 2022 they achieved double-digit growth in their Net Promoter Score.

Sallie Mae historically received negative comments when they posted online, but this series spurred unusually enthusiastic reactions. One viewer went out of their way to use the Sallie Mae website feedback form, calling the videos “phenomenal” and saying they watched all of them despite having already finished college. That means our mission of making dry information a pleasure to watch was a success.

Most importantly, we got perhaps the most jaded generation yet to watch long-form content from a student loan provider out of genuine interest, all thanks to one core value that the entire project was built on: putting students first.


Video for HACKED YouTube Series

Entrant Company / Organization Name

GYK Antler, Sallie Mae


Entry Credits