29 March 2018

Behind the scenes: Nationwide Fraud Awareness Films

Financial fraud can be highly lucrative for criminals, and devastating for their victims.

In 2017, criminals siphoned off more than £236.0 million from the financial accounts of private individuals and businesses, according to UK Finance, in a total of 43,875 fraud cases. The vast majority of victims were ordinary people, who lost an average of £ 2,784 each, while businesses lost an average of £ 24,355.

These are big numbers, so Nationwide is tackling fraud head-on, keeping a close eye on the latest scams and techniques. “We've seen a real switch in focus, not only at Nationwide but the industry as a whole," says Sian Carroll, who works in the Financial Crime Policy and Advice team.

Fraudsters have been active online for a long time, says Sian. But what's new is that they increasingly contact account holders directly, using elaborate stories to try and get access to their money. If you're unfamiliar with how fraudsters work, these stories can seem very convincing. “It can have a huge impact on people's lives," says Sian.

To help educate people about how these scams work, Nationwide recently made five short fraud-awareness films that have generated a buzz. To make them, members of Nationwide's Financial Crime team teamed up with marketers and creatives in an unusual and exciting collaboration.

Starting with Alison's Story, each film is a one-and-a-half minute animated cautionary tale, featuring animals shadowed by predators. As the suspense builds, a narrator tells the story of how each victim has been defrauded.

Fraud Awareness Film scamp

One of David Daniel's early sketches for Alison's Story.

The films end with an invitation to download and read about how to protect yourself from fraud in Nationwide's “Little Book of Big Scams", along with a link to more information.

Simple as they might seem, creating the films required sensitive and careful deliberation to make sure they didn't risk eliciting a negative reaction.

“If you were to be scammed by a fraudster, it can be quite an embarrassing thing. There's a stigma attached to it. We were keen to break that down and present the stories in an engaging way, but also not be too negative," explains Chris Marais, from Nationwide's Digital Marketing team.

Chris first became interested in producing the films after he found out that Sian and her colleagues regularly shared social media messages and articles about the latest fraud schemes. “Chris thought it would be a really good idea to do some fraud films," recalls Emma Scanlon, also from the Financial Crime Policy and Advice team.

To get the ball rolling, Chris sent out a pitch brief to a number of creative shops, both internal and external, asking for ideas on how the stories should be presented. Before long, he was working with an inhouse creative duo at Nationwide: Copywriter Simon Davies and Art Director David Daniel, who have been sparking creative ideas together for decades. (“We actually hate each other," Simon jokes.)

Simon and David knew that stories about fraud told from a third-person perspective would probably just wash over most audiences without having much effect. To really make an impact, it would be better to present stories in the first-person, told by narrators who had experienced fraud themselves.

“You know how you see films that say, 'based on real events'? That's kind of what our idea was," Simon explains.

Fraud Awareness Film scamp

Another early sketch for a scene that was not used in Alison's story.

Sian and Emma supplied the creative team with real-life horror stories, and the examples became the basis of five storylines. But there was another puzzle to solve. If people on screen just spoke into the camera, it wasn't going to be that exciting. A more intriguing approach was needed.

“We kept scribbling away," David recalls. “And all of a sudden, a goldfish – or some other kind of fish – popped up, with the shadow of a shark."

A goldfish named Alison emerged as the main on-screen character for the first film, Alison's Story. Other animal ideas emerged, evolving into starring roles for a goat (named Clare), a bird (Walter), a squirrel (Izzy) and a mole (Clive). Each character is the victim and shadowed by a different predator the fraudster, lurking in the background. In a voice-over, each narrator describes how they were duped by a different kind of scam, ranging from telephone scams to romance scams.

Another piece of the creative puzzle involved the films' visual style. “If you start talking about animals and animation, people immediately start thinking of Walt Disney and cuddly creatures. And that's definitely what we didn't want to do," says Simon. They also didn't want anything too threatening or gruesome, adds David.

Fraud Awareness Film scamp

The character of Clive the mole takes shape in this 2-D watercolour.

To find the right visual approach, Chris brought on Curious Productions, whose team came up with a way to make the films look as if each image had been drawn by hand.

“One of the problems we had was to try and keep an organic feel to the drawings, but also have a lot of control over them," says Lee Sands, a producer at Curious. They set out to develop a handcrafted look that could be quickly and easily animated.

“The project feels very 2-D, but it's actually executed with a lot in 3-D, using paint work over the top and layers of ink and a lot of other animated effects," explains Simon Percy, Curious's Executive Producer.

Fraud Awareness Film scamp

The threat! Each film features a carefully thought-out predator to represent the fraudster.

The music, created specifically for the films, also involved some careful considerations. “We gave each animal its own instrument," says Chris. Creepy musical effects were added as the various predators follow their prey – like the snake tracking poor Clive the mole.

All told, it took about five months to develop and produce the films. But the rewards have been significant. Chris reports that so far, they've smashed the performance targets set out at the start of the project, attracting about 110,000 video views on YouTube and 35,000 visits to Nationwide's own website.

We may not have seen the last of Alison the goldfish and the other stars. “I'm hoping that we can use this creative execution again for another business need," says Chris. “What that might be, I'm not sure. But we've got it on the shelf ready to use."

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