We just launched Year in Monzo 2023, a recap of how you spent your year. And so far over 1 million of you have seen yours.
Running a campaign at this scale is a group effort. Data, engineering, design and writing work together to create a seamless, personalised story for every customer. And the words are especially important because there’s lots of them, and each one counts towards building a delightful experience for someone. So we’d like to share the behind-the-scenes story of how we wrote Year in Monzo this time around.
This year, there were three big jobs for writing to cover:
The core experience – the default ‘flow’ that everyone goes through
120 bespoke merchant jokes – to accompany the top place you spent at (for our most popular merchants)
192 end screen eras – to ‘define’ your spending for the year.
That adds up to just shy of 500 lines of copy in total. We started writing these back in early October, and only stopped last week!
Bringing back Year in Monzo
This isn’t the first time we’ve run Year in Monzo. The very first version rolled out in 2018, and while it was much more basic, we saw a huge amount of engagement. We’d show you the top places you’d spent across a few categories, and a few extra insights for good measure. And people just loved to share how many times they’d gone to McDonald’s in a year.
So when we thought about the idea of revisiting the experience this year we knew we didn’t want to change the basics too much. We have a solid foundation that we knew people would be excited to see and, most importantly, share. But we also wanted to take the opportunity to do something more. To give you something extra than just a look at your spending (which you can now see anytime over in Trends, by the way).
And we had an insight: your financial life is much more than just the list of places you’ve been and people you shared money with. It’s the story of your life and the things that matter to you. So a recap of your financial year could actually be the story of the things that made your year uniquely special. Because that regular morning coffee wasn’t just a coffee.
Introducing: Main Character Energy
We took inspiration from a trend we’d noticed across culture. This was the year of Barbie, Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour, and acting like you’re in a Wes Anderson film on TikTok. In 2023 we each took ownership of the tiny moments that make up our lives and blew them up into cinematic narratives. You weren’t just having a bad week, this was your flop era.
So, “main character energy” became the central theme we wanted to weave throughout this year’s experience. It combined our insight about the hyper-personal story your money can tell, with the broader cultural trend of being the protagonist of your own life. We’d tell the story of how you Monzo’d your way through 2023 and what kind of story you were living.
We wouldn’t mess with the basics. You’d still get those McDonald’s stats. But we’d sprinkle extra magic through the experience supporting our theme, culminating in a grand reveal: your 2023 “era” - a title for the unique way you spent the year. (Or as unique as we could get when writing for over five million customers).
We started with the core experience, because it was the backbone for everything else – and had to bring the creative concept to life.
And it had an important job to do – bring the grandiosity of the core concept to life, while actually guiding people through the experience. It needed to do the hard work of setting the scene clearly for each data point, all while bringing a touch of magic.
It also had to actually make sense for hundreds of individual eras and merchants, which meant toeing a delicate balance between keeping it generic enough to hold all of them without being boring.
Take the entertainment spend category – it covers everything from leisure centres to pubs and streaming platforms. So you needed an intro that worked for both! (Incidentally, this is what we settled on).
And these were some runners up.
The screen we spent the most time finessing was the one introducing your ‘era’ – it had to prepare you for what you’re about to see, work for people who didn’t use social media, and (most importantly) dial up the drama of a big reveal.
And on the subject of dialling up the drama, we took main character energy seriously across every element of writing the experience. We decided to pepper cinematic references and metaphors throughout the core flow as a consistent nod to the concept, creating a neat narrative arc (grab the popcorn, enjoy the show, grand finale).
Next we startled to sprinkle some magic throughout, with “quips” for our biggest merchants
We decided early on that we wanted Year in Monzo to be not just fun, but funny. We wanted the experience to have a light-hearted tone, and also to be shareable. And sure, telling you that you’re in the top 5% of shoppers at Argos is fun - but telling you were the “the Arboss” is even funner. So we got to work.
Of course, we couldn’t write a quip for every merchant - there’s simply too many. So we started with just the Top 40 most popular ones - that we’d expect to top a lot of people’s lists. Writing these was a joy, leading to surreal debates such as whether ‘brie and cranberry tartlets’ are funnier than ‘mini roast turkey bites’.
We tried to balance different types of humour in our merchant quips. We initially over-indexed on puns, which are always fun but have diminishing returns. So we started exploring more observational angles – what are the jokes that only people who shop at Waterstones would get?
We each had areas that we were stronger on (Rich: gaming, Maja: clothes), and we crowdsourced ones that neither of us knew at all. A big thank you to our Monzonaut colleagues in Scotland for help coming up with quips for Lothian Buses!
Each quip went through various rounds of checks and approvals. We sense-checked them with ourselves for clarity, with others for humour and relatability, with our friends in Legal for “not getting us in trouble”-ability, and with anyone else that would look at them. This means even the 120 quips we ended up with is more like 300 in total, given the amount of rewriting. Pour one out for “and don’t you baguette it!” – an early rejected quip for Pret a Manger.
And finally: eras
Eras were our brand new invention for Year in Monzo 2023. We knew we wanted to do something along the lines of ‘your financial persona/horoscope’ - and as we explored the main character energy concept further, we hit upon the language of eras. Something about 2023 being your Percy Pig Era just felt right.
To write eras we had to do two things. Firstly, coming up with the era itself - a shorthand for the data point behind it. Space was limited so while “Clubcard era” would work, “Thinking about getting a Clubcard tattoo next year era” wouldn’t. And secondly, we had to actually explain what the era meant. So a short description that unpacked the data point, with maybe yet another joke thrown in.
This was another huge task, with almost 200 eras to write. And each would have to be spot on – specific enough that you’d relate to it, but not so out there as to be totally random. Yes, Iceland is known for weird and wonderful products, but how would you feel about being told 2023 was your Baked Bean-filed Hash Brown Era?
Like our quips, writing these meant drawing upon our own cultural knowledge, researching how people talked about each merchant, and sense-checking them with people that knew better.
We assigned eras to each customer in a very specific way. You’d likely qualify for a few eras - being in the top 5% of Greggs and the top 10% of Ikea, for example - but we’d give you whatever one the fewest people were eligible for. The ‘hardest club to get into’ as it were. So you’d get the most special result possible, even if it wasn’t your absolute top result.
The way this logic worked out meant that some people wouldn’t qualify for any of the eras, with about 30% of users falling into a catch-all bucket. Originally we wrote one era for all of them, but we weren’t satisfied with a third of people getting the same result. So we sub-divided the catch-all into five eras. Each of these would be something to the effect of “your spending was too special to put in a box”. Writing these wasn’t easy (what even does a “Swiss Army Knife era” even mean?) but we got there in the end.
Lastly, we paired each era up with what we called a mundane object to illustrate it. These would be deliberately basic-looking and unbranded. The joke throughout Year in Monzo is that you’re this grand protagonist, but ultimately we’re bringing you back to reality but just showing you how many takeaways you got. So we spent a lot of time trying to find ones that were just the right level of boring.
We’ll end with some of our loveliest customer feedback – so heartwarming.