Marketing Postmodern Irony Real life

Goodbye unfair banking

Banks have been responding in interesting ways to their unpopularity. This of course was brought about by a series of largely self-inflicted wounds: the credit crunch, computer lapses, PPI and investments mis-selling, indefensible banker bonuses and so on. And the last couple of weeks we have the spectacle of HSBC money laundering in Switzerland.

HSBC certainly has an open mind to money laundering.

Banks have tried lots of ways to deflect attention from all this. The main broad tactic is to position themselves not being vast corporate pirates, but as on our side. Barclays, typically tied themselves in knots to do this, adopted at one point a postmodern approach with their Barclays Squirrel of Postmodern Irony.

NatWest, meanwhile, began to provide ‘helpful banking’, and much of their marketing focused on how their helpful staff were ordinary people just like us, who nurtured the modest ambition to be helpful. Of marketing in the UK NatWest’s approach seemed to me to be the best way to sidestep unpopularity. They did so by re-positioning their offering in in what I call ‘real life’ territory. Their ambitions appear modest, but plays to an awareness of how difficult ordinary life is for us ordinary folks. And of course by saying they are ordinary just like us, we can almost have sympathy for them too. Very clever.

But the hair shirt is still there. Passing through Victoria Station yesterday I noticed a huge banner with its stale old hello/goodbye riff. But its implicit acknowledgement of the sector’s guilt made me grin. How did it all end up in such a marketing mess for the Banks?


NatWest banner Victoria Station, London

A NatWest turkey, Smirnoff, and some predictions for 09

My most hated ad of the year: the scene is a Liverpool branch of NatWest where customers find themselves being offered “Money Sense”advice on managing their budgets by pleasant down to earth staff. Yep, this is the same NatWest that’s owned by RBS — who as early as August were revealing the then biggest loss in banking history of 1.2 billion. So these utter bankers whose gross irresponsibility has helped create the current financial turmoil are, through NatWest, now offering us helpful advice on how to tighten our belts and be sensible.

NatWest are hiding behind their frontline staff, who are normal folks just like us, and trying to rebrand themselves as a commonsense outfit, and nothing to do with the masters of the universe bankers who lost contact with financial realities a long, long time ago. Worse, if you happen to be a customer, this patronising crap is followed-up by an intrusive SMS campaign, which sends vacuous unrequested advice to your own phone.

See that ad here.

My favourite ad: a seaman drops a little Smirnoff Vodka into the Channel, and ghosts of lost ships, and downed Spitfires surge up to the surface. While the ad may not not send you rushing to the nearest offie, it has a poetic visual symbolism that lingers in the memory.

My prediction for 09: recession will see marketing folks spending smarter, and making fewer TV ads. There will be more activity online – expect to see more viral films on the internet, where people can gain lots of coverage for little spend. There will also be a back-to-basics focus on things like direct mail and door drops. Clients will demand agencies prove their spend on TV ads to be worth it. So we’ll see more prominent phone numbers and website addresses being touted on our TVs more – because responses to these can be measured, allowing the agencies to justify their costs.