National Awareness Campaign: Defining the “Grey Charges” Problem; Positioning BillGuard as a Thought Leader

BillGuard—a startup personal finance security service that identifies and resolves questionable but not fraudulent credit card charges—solves a significant and widespread problem. Unfortunately, few consumers were aware that this problem existed.

Grey charges are legal but deceptive charges on credit card bills, such as recurring subscriptions, hidden fees, etc., that can cost consumers hundreds, even thousands, of dollars each year but largely go undetected on credit card statements. At the time of our engagement, grey charges totaled over $14 billion in the US alone according to a study commissioned by BillGuard.

Breakaway’s challenge was significant and two-fold: to define the problem—grey charges on credit card bills—and then build awareness of the BillGuard service as the solution.

We started the grey charges education efforts by creating and distributing an educational infographic, which got a lot of pickup in financially-focused media, often with a reference to BillGuard. But broadcasters, bloggers and others started lifting data from the infographic, and not crediting BillGuard. We realized we needed to do something that would definitively link BillGuard with the term grey charges.

As we were pondering strategy, BillGuard was working on its first mobile app, which would enable BillGuard to appeal to a much broader range of consumers. BillGuard’s goal was to push the app into the number-one spot within the financial applications section of the Apple App Store.

All of the stars aligned when we commissioned a respected third party to create the first-ever study to quantify the grey charges problem. Based on BillGuard data, the report’s findings were mind blowing.

We determined that it made sense to somehow link this report with the availability of the iOS app.

Our Strategy

Our plan was to announce the grey charges study and the BillGuard iOS app on the same day. For maximum impact we used a two-pronged approach:

One: Define the problem – grey charges

We identified financial and consumer advocacy writers/producers at major print, online and broadcast outlets and conducted pre-briefings on the grey charges report. We relied on the sizable impact of the charges in terms of people affected and dollars lost to introduce the media to BillGuard and its services.

Two: Offer up the solution – BillGuard

The availability of the new mobile app gave us another “hook” to build awareness. We pitched both app-focused and major technology media with information on BillGuard’s new iOS app, using the numbers in the report as evidence for why this app was so important to their readers (the consumer user community).

Our ultimate goal was to have media cover all angles of our story, creating broad awareness of the problem and national recognition of the company/service.

Our plan worked very effectively.


  • Coverage from NBC Nightly News and across all other major broadcast networks resulted in pick-up by more than 50 affiliates with a total publicity value of close to $400,000
  • More than 50 unique articles across major business and tech outlets including Reuters, USA Today, CNN Money and TheNextWeb
  • BillGuard’s iOS app became the number one app in the financial apps in the iOS Appstore
  • Coverage went viral with broadcasts, major news articles and app stories being picked up by bloggers, small news organizations and financially focused freelance writers across the country
  • More than two months after launch, requests are still coming in to speak to BillGuard about the Grey Charges Report and their web and iOS service
  • Two industry award wins including a Platinum MarCom Award and a Bulldog Media Relations award

Coverage Highlights

  • USA Today – “Consumers rack up $14.3 billion in ‘gray’ charges”
  • NBC Nightly News – “Cost of ‘gray charges’ staggering”
  • Fox Business – “How You Unknowingly Pay an Extra $215 a Year on ‘Grey Charges’”
  • CNN Money – “Sneaky credit card charges can cost you hundreds”
  • MacWorld – “Hands-on: BillGuard for iPhone watches your credit card so you don’t have to”
  • Reuters– “YOUR MONEY-How to avoid ‘gray charges’ on credit card bills”
  • NBC Bay Area – “’Gray Charges’ Costing Americans Billions”
  • TheNextWeb – “BillGuard launches for iPhone to combat the ‘$14bn’ lost by credit card users to hidden-fees and errors”
  • CBS Pittsburgh – “Consumers Spent Over $14 Billion In Unwanted Credit Card Charges”
  • Techcrunch – “BillGuard Launches iPhone App To Help Credit Card Users Catch And Dispute ‘Grey Charges’”
  • Fox10 TV-Studio 10 – “New App Tracks Hidden Fees”
  • JeanChatzky – “Thought-Provoking Thursday: Is Your Bank Account Seeing Grey”
  • Chicago Tribune – “Seniors on the Go: Watch out for ‘grey’ credit card charges”
  • Pando Daily – “BillGuard makes a game of zapping fraudulent charges”
  • KSFY ABC – “Study finds ‘gray’ credit card charges costing consumers hundreds”