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Putting the Pig on the Pedestal


The piggy bank as we know it is over 800 years old. Yes, you read that right — banks in the shape of pigs were first used in Java in the 12th century. Over the centuries, archaeologists have uncovered many piggy banks from many different cultures. Germans latched on to piggy banks not only for their simple frugality but also because they believed pigs were a symbol of good fortune. And thanks to German immigrants, piggy banks made their way over to America, where they’ve become a timeless symbol of saving dough.

Even with the piggy bank’s continued presence in American culture, as a general rule, Americans have a hard time-saving money. According to Bankrateonly 43% of adults in the US would be able to afford a $1,000 emergency expense. High costs of living and inflation haven’t helped people save their funds the way experts say they should.

In 2008, Michael Ferrari (currently SVP Fintech Sales & Market Development for Third Eye Advisors) had an idea: What if there were a product that made saving money easier and, if possible, fun?

Ferrari and his business partner Jon Gaskell (now Director of Business Development, NYDIG) put their heads together and developed the first iteration of SmartyPig, a program that gives customers a high-yield, goal-based savings account that helps them shore up funds for important purchases and life events — a down payment on a house, a new car, a wedding, or a vacation fund, to name a few.

The project took on a new life of its own, becoming a major presence on social media platforms and winning multiple awards for its consumer outreach. The SmartyPig brand has changed hands several times since then, and has finally found a home at Sallie Mae.

Over the last few years, the team at SmartyPig has grown an impressive online following, conducted multiple sweepstakes with hundreds of thousands of entries, and has leaned consistently on Trabian’s creative services group for the work behind it all.

“I would describe [the relationship between Trabian and SmartyPig] as very collaborative,” says Aisha Gibson, Senior Product Marketing Manager. “We’re able to communicate quickly and easily.”

“We give a high-level example of what we want and you guys come back in a very short time,” says Greg Spadea, Director — Retail Deposits. “We’re on the same wavelength.”

Seeing SmartyPig Through Fresh Eyes…and Glasses

When the creative services team (originally employed by Q2 and transitioned to Trabian in 2021) began working on SmartyPig in 2016, the brand was nearly a decade old and was ready for a facelift. One of the first and most notable changes was also one of the smallest — the SmartyPig mascot got a fresh set of frames, shifting from wireframe glasses to hipster horned rims.

The brand, which was saturated in pinks and greens, enjoyed an infusion of some light, playful blues and hand-drawn iconography. Our goal was to bring a more youthful feel and voice to the brand, starting with a recalibrated website and refreshed materials for potential customers.

LEFT: Original Site | RIGHT: Site Redesign

With these updates in place, SmartyPig was ready to make his next move — becoming a major player in the financial social scene.

“When SmartyPig came to us back at Q2, the SmartyPig Team prior had done a great job of getting a lot of followers on both Twitter and Facebook. But they weren’t posting,” says Summer Brow, Senior Designer at Trabian. “Having 100,000 followers on Twitter, and not posting anything is not an ideal strategy.”

Summer went to work creating social media posts, then whole social media campaigns, putting SmartyPig front and center and engaging consumers.

“One of the things I think that’s most successful about SmartyPig in the social media engagement is that it’s not just disseminating information, but trying to elicit information from the users. I always love it when we ask the users, what are your savings goals? What are your savings tips for the holidays, etc.,” says Summer.

The work that Sallie Mae and Summer have done over the years has garnered a number of awards, including gold for Gold Award for Twitter Engagement in the dotComm Awards (defeating two ESPN and one Ritz Carlton campaigns) and The America Saves Designation of Savings Excellence.

“There’s a lot there to be proud of,” says Summer Brow. “Our work on SmartyPig has rivaled some of the work you see from incredibly large operations.”

Part of what drives SmartyPig’s social success? Sweepstakes. Over the years, SmartyPig has run sweepstakes for Back to School, Spring Break, and Summer Vacation. By far, the most popular sweepstakes comes every October, when SmartyPig dons his best Halloween costumes and fans vote on their favorite.

Spooktacular put us on the map,” says Greg Spadea “We won a bunch of awards that first or second year.”

Consumers vie to win all sorts of rewards, including cash prizes, t-shirts, and other useful pieces of “swag,” including drinkware, trucker hats, and Pop Sockets.

“We’ve gotten positive feedback for the Kleen Kanteen, coffee cups…People like those because they’re high quality,” says Spadea. “Less is sometimes more; we found out it’s really that balance.

Beyond sweepstakes, SmartyPig offers a number of resources for savers of all ages, including coloring pages, worksheets, blogs, calculators, and even make-your-own piggy banks.

“[The] other resources that I find most successful (are) the professor pig blog [posts]…it’s the thing that gets the most clicks in our emails. The calculators are also something that is successful and interesting to customers, because they can really customize their own experience,” says Gibson.

Refreshing the Refreshed

This past fall, Trabian redesigned the SmartyPig site for a third time, transitioning it to the Canvas CMS. More than just design for design’s sake, this refresh focused on some key pain points.

“The site prior to the current one was less accessible,” says Summer Brow. “We really focused on making the new site more accessible and tried to focus on what users really needed to learn and to know.”

Trabian worked with the Sallie Mae team to execute a new vision for the site, including new blog layouts, a lighter code base, and more attractive graphics. Trabian administers the SmartyPig website on Sallie Mae’s behalf and helps write content, in addition to the ongoing graphics work. As partners, Trabian treats the administration of as a top priority.

“Prior to the redesign, we did a content audit to evaluate what we had and what we could do with it,” said Summer Brow. “We tried to do away with whatever wasn’t actively helping the team at Sallie Mae and tried to put in extra layers of things that are useful and relevant.”

SmartyPig continues to post across an array of social platforms, where they have hundreds of thousands of followers. Over the years, SmartyPig has allied with social influencers to promote the product and pass along saving tips to consumers, a practice they will continue as their social media presence grows.

“We’re looking to create a community of savers,” adds Aisha Gibson.

One Day (and One Post) at a Time

Almost daily, Summer Brow reaches out to the SmartyPig team about their social media initiatives, graphics they might need, blog posts, video, and more. Once a week, the entire team gathers to talk about direction and impact. Part of being a powerful online presence means being adaptable and willing to pivot.

“Constantly changing the kind of content we are creating, being creative in that space (social media)…it’s important,” says Meghan Tezik.

Through it all, Trabian and SmartyPig bear in mind how important authenticity is to the product and the end user.

“The brand has its own personality; keeping that brand voice and speaking like SmartyPig, trusting who SmartyPig is, is important,” says Aisha Gibson. “We try to make sure we are meeting the needs of our customers.”

Even 15 years after its debut, SmartyPig has no intention of slowing down. The team at Sallie Mae is intent on broadening SmartyPig’s reach and bringing in more savvy savers year after year. Their partnership with Trabian makes it possible to generate a lot of content, quickly and expertly.

Let Trabian Enhance Your Brand

From redesigning your website to creating content of all kinds (video, audio, images, blog posts, etc.), Trabian can be your brand's best friend. Contact us today to talk about all the ways we can help you shine. 

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