U.K. Challenger Banks have been Brandjacked!


On the 29th January N26, the German-based Challenger Bank announced the launch of Black, their subscription-based current account here in the U.K. and they came out of their corner swinging.

In recent months, FinTech companies have gone ‘offline’ and taken over the London Underground advertising boards across the city. Londoners haven’t been able to step into a Tube station without seeing an advert from one of the well-funded Startups; Yolt, eToro, Nutmeg, Habito, Starling Bank, Monzo, and Revolut are all at it. Although Revolut recently landed themselves in hot water with their advertising campaign - that’s another story.

While N26 is currently running a campaign on the underground (just like every other FinTech), that’s not the main story here.

During research for a client of ours, we noticed something. An N26 Ad appeared under the search bar every time we searched for any of the main Challenger Banks - they’d been Brandjacked! From Monzo to Starling Bank, all of them had been dealt a low-blow with a sledgehammer.

N26 U.K. Launch Brandjacking Challenger Banks

What is Brandjacking?

Brandjacking is specific to Digital Marketing. The online advertising platform Google AdWords (others are available) allows users to display short adverts and distributes them through the Google Ad Network. In its most extreme form, hackers take over websites and Social Media profiles for political or monetary gain.

Strictly speaking, in this example N26 is Adjacking. Brandjacking occurs when a company specifically designs web pages to trick SERPs such as Google and Bing to think that their pages are genuinely aligned with the terms users are searching for. More on that another time.

Brandjacking isn’t new and it restricted to Challenger Banks, either. Every industry is fair game. Recently we came across a Marketer who openly boasted about how they Brandjacked Shopify, Instagram and BAMF Media to piggy-back off of their hard-earned Brand reputation (below).

Brand-jacking BAMF, Shopify and Instagram.

Brand-jacking BAMF, Shopify and Instagram.


How does Brandjacking work?

When Brand A bids for Adverts to be served on search results under Brand B’s company name in the attempt to gain from their brand equity. By paying for an Ad, they are most likely to appear above the search results.

What are the advantages of Brandjacking?

There are a few advantages to Brand-jacking:

  1. Brandjacking is cheap

    Unsurprisingly, many businesses sit on the top spot on Google for their company name. Their Marketing Team have either not considered the possibility of being Brandjacked or figure that the impact won’t do much harm

    Our research showed that N26 wouldn’t have had to bid as much as 60p per-click for most of the key Challenger Bank names. Not bad when some of the terms an up-and-coming Challenger Bank may want to be found for are closer the region of £30-50 per-click.

    Compare that to a two-week Ad on the Underground which depending on the type of ads, location, format etc. could cost you in the region of £130,000 for a two-week period. That said, no one Marketing tactic should be deployed in isolation and it’s difficult to compare impact directly.

  2. The Brandjacked audience is relevant

    If you’ve done your competitor research and you’re not comparing apples with pears, then the audience who are searching for your competitors are likely to be existing customers or prospects that may never have otherwise known about your company.

    With their interest piqued with the ad at the top of the page, they’re likely to come and check you out. What they do after that, however, depends on their brand-loyalty.

  3. New Customers are just a few clicks away

    When it comes to launching a Digital-only bank in a new market, the Marketing campaign is going to have one of two main objectives:

    1. Brand Awareness

      You’re the relatively new kid on the block to everyone but those within the industry and the early adopters. You need to get your name out there and into the mouths and minds of prospective customers.


      This is where we think N26 have either missed a trick or have made a conscious decision to pure brand-awareness.

      Through Google AdWords, companies of all sizes are able to build Mobile App Install Ads that allow users to download an App directly to the device they are using. A powerful feature that N26 may have just missed.

What are the disadvantages of Brandjacking?

For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction, right? Well, the same is true when it comes to Brandjacking. It’s not all plain-sailing.

The disadvantages of Brandjacking include:

  1. You’re poking the bear

    Do it once and you may get away with it, but particularly in this example, N26 are dealing with some pretty influential (and well financially supported) Challenger Banks. While they may not have noticed until they read this article when they find out there are likely to either respond or store it in their back pocket for a later date.

  2. It can get expensive

    Have you ever been in an auction house? The auctioneer is primed and well-versed in encouraging participants to out-bid their competitor. Google AdWords is no different. In fact, you can see it right there on your mobile, laptop, mac or phablet - they even let you know!

    Find yourself in a bidding war protecting your own company or Brandjacking another and all of a sudden it’s no longer a bit of fun.

  3. It’s not strictly Legal

    While compiling this blog post, we’ve been unable to uncover any specific cases where we can find precedent for whether Brandjacking is legal or illegal.

    However, we did unearth the LinkedIn post above from a user (who shall remain nameless, even after we’ve had a few beers, sorry) boasting about how he had Brandjacked Shopify, BAMF Media, and Instagram.

    We also found the below response from a Microsoft Attorney. The cases are slightly different, but who wants to be the first with their head on a rather public block?

Is Brand-jacking Illegal?

Why is Brandjacking relevant?

Chances are that by this stage you are thinking one of two things:

  1. BRB, I’m off Brand-jacking!


  2. Brand-jacking is for jerks.

Whichever of the two categories you find yourself in consider the below points. In the few short days were monitoring the N26 Brandjacking campaign:

  • Monzo announced that they reached 1.5m users and were launching their Business Bank trial with their first 100 business. Both big news.

    Note: N26 already has a Business Account offering.

  • Starling Bank announced a £75m investment round to support increased investment.

    Note: N26 already has a footprint in the markets that Starling Bank is likely looking to expand in to.

  • Revolut had a faux-pas that will have doubtless seen fingers tapping furiously on keyboards in search of the latest news. Did they lose customers to N26?

    Note: N26 already has Apple and Google pay.

The search terms “Monzo”, “Starling” and “Revolut” combined receive on average 85,000 searches a month through Google alone. It’s most B2B Marketers dream to get (mostly) relevant traffic for 60p per-click.

Those who know FinTech and more specifically Challenger Banks could argue for hours about which company is better, who is the best-funded, who has the most customers and who has the best features.

Right now, however, established retail banks still have by far the majority share. There is still plenty of room for Challenger Banks to grow and more are climbing through the ranks each month.

Whether they should continue to deploy grey-hat Marketing tactics in an industry that is built on trust to gain more customers or not, they are working hard behind the scenes to make banking better for us all.


If you were on the receiving end of being Brandjacked, what would you do? 🤔

About GROW: in London

GROW: in London is a full-service B2B Marketing Agency based in London but operating from Shoreditch to Sydney. If you’re looking to expand or enter a new market, we can help build a Marketing Strategy that will make your competition pay attention. Contact us today.