Hell or Habito? Why a mortgage startup branded itself through some sick animation

In time for Halloween, we discover how Rick and Morty and Itchy & Scratchy inspired Habito's ghoulish animations, in our best advertising campaign of 2019.

Scandalised. Triggered. Disgusted.

Just three of the words to describe how I felt seeing an insensitive bunch of adverts on UK telly recently. Tentacles attacking women in their living rooms, piranhas eating a man alive in the kitchen; can you believe someone thought something like this video would be a good idea?

The brand who messed up is mortgage startup Habito, and the guilty party behind it all was London's Uncommon, one of those hip creative studios all the art and design mags love.

Not one to be easily tricked, I contacted both names in order to get to the bottom of things. My mission: to get the ads pulled from all stations, web pages and public spaces, whilst pretending to be one of the UK's leading art and design writers. See how easily they fell for it below, these culture war enemies of ours. Win!

The Rude: Uncommon Creative Studio

Would you agree there's never been such a shameful run of adverts? Especially advertising something as innocuous as mortgages? Hey? Answer me!

Uncommon: "We’ve definitely never seen someone’s spine pulled out of their mouth in a TV ad before, that’s for sure! But businesses and categories that are normally perceived as a bit boring are the greatest opportunities we get in our industry.

"Our whole job is to make the brand stand out from the competition; the more established the category conventions are, the more reward there is for breaking them."

If that gets you to sleep at night, fine. Anyway, how did you approach the brief? I bet you had fun with it, you sickos.

"So much fun. Some of the ideas on the cutting room floor are genuinely horrendous. They’d have kept people up at night. But that’s always a good test of when you’ve got a good creative platform – you can keep crafting idea after idea.

"Habito’s mission is ‘to save people from the hell of mortgages’. So, we ran with the idea of what ‘mortgage hell’ could be, and allowed ourselves to get as extreme as possible. Obviously the more extreme, the more you have to dial down the graphic visuals.

"We looked at references like Rick and Morty and Itchy & Scratchy. They’ve worked out something brilliant, which is that you can turn something horrifying into something funny just by changing the way you treat it visually."

A still from one of the ads, used for educational purposes only

I sincerely hope someone tried to stop these from airing..?

"As with any project, we’re always keen to keep Clearcast in the loop – particularly when it comes to animation, as it’s very hard to make changes late in the day if something doesn’t pass clearance.

"It’s important for us that we stay true to our comedic tone – not venturing into anything offensive or scary. We’re always wanting to push the creative further, so it’s definitely a balance to ensure we’re not overstepping the mark."

Well, they did in my eyes. Still reeling from the visual offences I had seen, I took my grievances to the doors of Habito, riding high from my own self-importance on the back of one mighty high horse. Chief marketing officer Abba Newbery reluctantly agreed to see me; I think she has a really cool name.

The Bad: Habito

What were you thinking when you got Uncommon to create these abominations?

Abba: "We gave Uncommon the most open brief possible - help us shake up the mortgage market for all time. The only real steer we gave them was to bring our brand promise to life – 'to set people free from the hell of mortgages' – and a list of ads that Dan the founder loved and also hated (which included the very old Blackcurrant Tango launch ad – love!  And Money Supermarket Skeletor and He-Man– hate!)

"We had worked with Uncommon before so expected nothing but an uncompromising and highly unconventional route, dripping with creativity. Did we expect 'comedy mortgage death' though – er, no!"

But what the hell kind of customers do you expect to attract here?

"I guess interestingly for a high growth fintech, we are playing a long-term game in marketing. Most people don't want to think about their mortgage, and actually most people don't have to for a couple of years once they have sorted it. So, the idea was to be as provocative and memorable as possible, so when you think mortgage, you think Habito.

"To get all intellectual about it – it uses the peak-end rule as it's psychological basis – a psychological heuristic in which people judge an experience largely based on how they felt at its peak (i.e. its most intense point) and at its end, rather than based on the total sum or average of every moment of the experience.

"The effect occurs regardless of whether the experience is pleasant or unpleasant. So we play out an intense and comical hellish intensity, an emotional reminder of how you felt during your last mortgage application. We then solve that pain through the clean blue skies and 'key wings' of Habito."

So, Adult Swim-loving, gentrified area-moving hipsters eh!

"Actually the average age of a Habito customer is 42."

Oh, fine...

Dejected, I took the London tube home, still shaking with anger. Along the way, imagine my surprise to see posters in stations with more of Habito's incredibly offensive imagery. Even worse, these ghoulish illustrations followed me up on the escalators in the form of digital ribbons, which like the posters were made by some dude called Jimbo Phillips.

I decided to take my rage all the way back to Uncommon's offices, asking why the bloody hell they thought they could get away with not only scandalising eyeballs at home but out of home too.

"The OOH Ribbons were a new format for us and we were excited to see how the Habito illustrations could come to life as moving image, but also in such a high footfall site such as these ones across Transport For London," the team said, a little bored to see me again to be honest.

"Given the time restrictions and multiple screens, we had to be clever with our approach. It’s not like making a TV execution – we needed to consider how the visual will look to the viewer travelling on the escalator and ensure the message was still getting across."

Pretending to be a fan, I the asked the illustrator behind these ribbon images some questions on his involvement in this charade, a Santa Cruz-based skateboard artist called Jimbo.

The Ugly: Jimbo Phillips

What made you think you could seriously do this sort of thing?

Jimbo: "The extreme nature of it was right up my alley. I usually do skateboard graphics, doing art that gets kids psyched or makes them stoked. I tried to carry over some of that enthusiasm and vibe to this project, and its rad to give people something to look at while they are bored on the subway!"

But... but... mortgages aren't meant to be fun!

"I have to admit, when I heard 'mortgage company' I was a little sceptical, but when they said they didn’t want to hold back and wanted to get gnarly with the illustrations, I was down!

"Getting a mortgage can be an overwhelming and frustrating process, so I wanted to express that feeling through eye popping illustrations, while still giving it a little comedic levity, maybe give people a chuckle."

You're telling me mortgages are hell in America too?

"I think it’s pretty universal that dealing with massive amounts of paperwork where large sums of money are at stake is always a pain in the ass and a total headache!

"Luckily for you guys, you have Habito that gives you some cool art to look at while you contemplate it, and it was my pleasure to create it. Thanks!"

Trick you - I mean, thank you Jimbo, and Happy Halloween from Digital Arts to everyone involved in making our favourite advertising treat of 2019.

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