Mortgages and entertainment—name a more unlikely duo. Prior to 2018, the concept of actually enjoying a mortgage advert was about as foreign as finding an affordable home in London.
In the last three years, however, UK online mortgage broker Habito has taken the category by storm and continued to cut through the clutter with a series of irreverently gory and gleefully gruesome ads from Uncommon Studio and Hornet Director Andy Baker.
In total, Andy Baker has helped create seven “Hell or Habito” installments for the mortgage company—each somehow more horrifying (and morbidly mesmerizing) than the last. At Hornet, we had the great privilege of producing last year’s spot “The Climb” which was shortlisted at Ottawa and Manchester Animation film festivals.
Here, we’re taking a dive into how this campaign came to be, how it’s continued to evolve and challenge the status quo, and how doing so has led to some very tangible wins for the brand.
Founded in 2015, Habito’s goal was always to position itself as a “transformative brand.” As a tech-enabled mortgage startup, they wanted to make mortgages easier for younger demographics with typical next gen offerings like no fees, no paperwork, the works.
And what better way to appeal to a younger audience than with irreverent gore?
As Laura Swinton brilliantly puts it in her article for LBB titled Advertising Embraces Adult Animation’s Existential Turn: “The audience of teenage slackers and nerds have grown up to become reasonably functioning adults, capable of relationships and even spawning. The demographic for the weirder reaches of animation has grown up. And you don’t get much more grown up than mortgages.”
Andy and Uncommon’s remit thus wasn’t so much to lean into the cartoony horror, but to dive headfirst.
For Andy, it was a holy-grail opportunity. “Habito wanted something based on the gore and hellishness of home-buying, pulling inspo from the likes of visceral illustrators like Jimbo Phillips and J.J. Villard. For us, it was the dream brief. Working with a brand and agency who want to push to the limit is really exciting. They’d push us, and we’d push them. It was always a bit of a shock that we were able to Clearcast and get that stuff on TV. Even our animators were sometimes grossed out with the things we created.”
And they weren’t the only ones. While the vast majority of people have loved the Habito ads (more on that in a minute), there will always be a subset of folks who are offended. According to Andy, this is a good thing.
“To this day, there are still loads of complaints about the gore. But Uncommon and Habito both love that. For them—and for us—it’s always better to divide opinion than have no opinion at all. That’s where we sit as a studio—working with clients and agencies who are prepared to take risks and create something unique and ownable. That’s what we’ve done with Habito and endeavored to do with a lot of our work.”
The results of such creative conviction are telling. According to Habito CMO Abba Newbery, “We’ve tripled brand awareness in 12 months, grown customers by 100% and reduced our acquisition cost by 75%. With nearly 8 million views on Youtube.”
The Andy Baker-Habito universe doesn’t show any signs of slowing down any time soon. Sometimes such longevity can be stifling for an artist. Not so with this campaign.
“For us, when you get anything that has longevity, it can sometimes get repetitive and boring. With this project, it’s the exact opposite. There’s so much more of this world to explore. It feels like it has a TV series vibe with its own universe.”
Indeed, the Habito ads have almost completely one-eightied in recent years. They’ve gone from irreverent & shocking to totally recognizable. It’s less “what on earth is this gory, irreverent thing” and more “oh, that’s a Habito ad.” For Andy, this normalization is one of the most exciting aspects of the campaign.
“Three years ago when this Habito campaign came along, animation in advertising was considered by many to be a ‘special thing.’ Now it’s just another avenue. Another means of marketing and storytelling. Animation isn’t just for kids; it can be used for anything, including to sell mortgages.”
To view the most recent Habito ad, check out “Habito One” by Andy Baker—a puss-filled, murder-hornet nightmare in all the right ways.