Cows, Meerkats and now First Direct’s Skunk 

Here is my review of First Direct's latest campaign featuring, Skunk. I take a look at the merits of the ad and identify key watch-outs.
First Direct

First Direct has certainly come out with a ‘whiff’ of an idea as they take to the digital stage sporting their new mascot, Skunk. 

Now, you may need to take a double-take at this point (maybe that’s exactly what they want 😉) as even their Marketing Chief, Chris Wood, saw it as a hard pill to swallow at first. Have a watch.

However, it has its merits. 

1. Appeal to a younger audience

For one, they are trying to appeal to a younger audience and therefore need an edgy fluent device to grab attention that is in their brand colours. 

2. Culturally and economically relevant

It has cultural relevance to our ‘economic’ times. What we are currently going through sucks or rather stinks, so that concept kinda marries up.

3. Characters as memory structures

Characters are a classic memory structure device and they see Skunk as enduring over the next 5 years. If we look at System 1 research, an animal character has the most emotional appeal of any device, so they have chosen well.

4. Speak the truth

By using a character they were able to talk about a sensitive issue in a more open way. 

Top Watch Outs

They are off the starting blocks with the campaign. However, here are my top watch outs: 

1. Character based on a negative connotation 

The positioning is based on a negative connotation and character. This in itself is ok, I mean the Direct Line Fixer was the same. However, what’s important is how the character is able to do good, rather than just be bad as*. 

The advert showed no clear proposition proof point beyond “find out how First Direct can help”. Most will still be skeptical as they have given us no ‘reason to believe’.

2. Can Skunk endure?

The character needs to be able to work in both good and hard times. Therefore, the ‘everything sucks right now’ mantra may not be applicable forever. And you certainly don’t want to be the bearer of bad news forever. 

So where do you go from here, especially as times change? 

3. Storytelling is critical, emotion is key

We have just received the first instalment of the character in action. However, what’s important is how they build the story around Skunk.

Compare the Market did a fantastic job of evolving the meerkat character through storytelling and its key that First Direct do the same.

Skunk is a likeable, straight-talking character and its certainly addressing a major issue of our time. However, beyond a rational ‘it sucks right now’, it lacks an emotional hook to draw the audience to the character.

We know that emotion is one of the strongest elements in advertising effectiveness and so they need to bring in this element more to get us wrapped around the Skunk character.

Source: Les Binet and Peter Field

4. Attract an audience, detract an audience 

First Direct are on a mission to act like a challenger bank. They want to attract a sub-35 year old audience. 

However, they need to be careful not to alienate their current older customers in the bargain. Polarising characters can do just that so the question is; how can they make it relevant to both audiences? 

5. Substance matters

My final note is that it’s admirable to call out how much everything stinks right now and position the brand as a ‘hero’. They clearly signal that First Direct is the bank that can help. The big question is how??? 

Since it’s left ambiguous in the advert, they need to really be ready to put their money where their mouth is. The problem is they have not set any expectations so inevitably it will lead to disappointment for some (hopefully not many!). 


I’m a First Direct fan and customer so hope this goes down the way they want it to.

Brilliant people, brilliant energy and above all brilliant brand. 

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