Venmo is a little app for your little phone that makes it easy to beam money from your bank account to someone else's. It's very handy! It's also seen terrific success through word of mouth. So why, why oh why, is the company plastering New York with these universally hated ads?
Lucas is the protagonist in Venmo's inexplicable, in-your-face-meaningless IRL marketing campaign.
This is the entirety of the campaign. Aggressive non-meaning.
Just Lucas doing things, joylessly, and getting vandalized.
Are we supposed to identify with Lucas? Is Lucas the 21st century everyman?
If so, Venmo miscalculated, because real humans really hate Lucas:
okay the Venmo ads in the subway are absolutely horrible. which is a shame because it's such a great app. #wompwomp
— Roxi Fernandez (@roxwithlox) January 16, 2014
I do NOT like these Lucas Venmo ads in the subway. Has anyone else seen then. I just don't know...
— Trista Kempa (@tristajaye) January 15, 2014
What the fuck is venmo I hate these subway ads
— Leia Jospe (@leiaj) December 31, 2013
I don't care if Lucas uses Venmo
— Adam Kuban (@akuban) January 7, 2014
It's strange that an app that's so popular, sans advertising, would resort to a widely hated advertising campaign—something anyone socialized under regular norms would be able to immediately point out is a weird and alienating series of billboards.
Venmo has been a big success among even non-techie crowds just because it works well. It's useful. It's free! It's nice. It's all of these things because of its clean engineering and design—it does few things, and does them well.
But being able to make a product that people enjoy doesn't come with any guarantee of being able to actually relate to humans—which is why you wind up with an advertising campaign from Mars, like Lucas. In fact, there might just be a correlation between making good software and being detached from the rest of our species—and so we have this aspie advertising, smugly unsociable. You don't have to "get it," because Lucas was acquired by eBay, and is smarter than you, anyway.
I don't know much about the billboard biz, so I asked John Laramie, an industry expert. Maybe I was missing something:
Let me first say that I love Venmo. I use it nearly everyday. I am also a New Yorker that runs an outdoor advertising company that talks to brands, startups, and agencies, everyday. So I look at this campaign from many different angles and there are certainly overlaps. But, if I look at it from the point of view of the general public, it's hard to see what's going on here.
I would have thought a large campaign like this would be all about raising Venmo's profile and getting sign ups. Right now, it's asking more questions than it's answering. Any normal person - in other words a potential customer - would probably think this:
- Who the fuck is Lucas?
- I should give a fuck that Lucas likes magic? Oh wait, I like magic, so maybe I'll like Lucas, which means then I should try Venmo?
- Oh my god, I ride subways too, just like Lucas! Let me go Google Venmo when I get off this train. Maybe it's a subway app?
Of course, all campaigns have multiple objectives. If Venmo's objective here is to play the game of "who's got a bigger dick in the NYC tech community right now" then, kudos, you nailed it. Subway advertising, after all, is expensive.
So while your vision is polluted on the subway, Venmo can sit back, grin, and say, Oh well, at least we're on the subway. Next up: Square ads in movie theaters, Jack Dorsey's penetrating stare for 45 seconds—fade to black.