Tuesday, March 24, 2009

BFF: Critique 6: Financial Services

Appeared in the March 2009 edition of the Bangladesh Brand Forum magazine.

The old adage proclaims, “Money makes the world go around.” Well at least it makes the advertising world go around. Like rest of the rat race, we are also obsessed with money. How much billing we have, who are the top spenders, what is the percentage of commission, how much outstanding an agency has, who gets what salary – the questions are never-ending. However it seems one area of money that so far we have not explored is the one that we instinctively should. And that is the advertising of money. Or at least, that of financial services.

Many advertising practitioners across the world have told me financial services and products are the most difficult item to brand and promote. It’s a no-brainer. Come on! I’m not willing to hand over my life savings to just about anybody. Even when it comes to taking money from a financial institution we are wary – read the fine print thrice, ask four friends, consult an adviser. We have an instinctive distrust of bankers. You know, those people who will give us an umbrella when it’s not raining and take it back when it does.

On the flip side central bank and regulator dictates make it difficult to have a uniquely distinctive product. Interest rates are usually within similar ranges. As are product features. I still haven’t figured out how the credit card I get from x bank is different from y bank given that both are Visa. Come to think of it, what is actually the difference between MasterCard and them? I mean I use both with equal ease (or sometimes unease!)

Bangladeshi financial sector has another spanner in mix. We have now 60 plus banks, not to mention all the NBFIs (non-banking financial institutions) and insurance companies that do both, take deposits and give out loans. It doesn’t matter if I want to hoard away my saving or borrow money for that new car; I am utterly perplexed when it comes to figuring out whom to trust.

Now it is a complete lie on my part to say that financial institutions in Bangladesh have not been advertising. One of my first jobs was to work on financial products of the then ANZ Grindlay’s Bank. I remember we marketed the loan scheme just like we had any other consumer product. We gave it a brand name – Planz! It had a logo and a product story. And I believe it was quite a triumph for the bank. We followed up with a few other products with varying levels of success. Few other banks followed suit.

It is also true that one of the prime advertising revenues for the print media come from banks. There is always some bank talking about a new branch opening or the other. On TV, banks usually sponsor most of the news programs. But do consumers actually know or appreciate the difference between Mutual Bank, Trust Bank or the Mutual Trust Bank? How about between Standard Bank and Standard Chartered Bank? Or Citibank N.A and The City Bank? UCB, UCCL, NBL, NCCL, XYZ – the list goes on and on.

Now I am sure there will be a reader who will pounce on me now to say that Sonali Bank was amongst the top 20 brands in the recently announced Bangladesh Brand Awards. Ok I don’t want to get into a controversy here but one needs to appreciate the methodology of that research. It did not judge top of mind recall, but rather the strength of the brand name and health. The latter is not necessarily a function of branding efforts but just the sheer geographical reach and length of presence in the market, amongst other factors. . Meaning, often there might not be direct investment behind the brand but external factors influence its consumer perceptions.

Banks in Bangladesh, it seems, do not appreciate the need to differentiate. We all know what Jack Trout said, “Differentiate or die!”

Again a bit of over exaggeration on my part, some banks have now started down this path. Some, with hesitant steps, and some, with a head on plunge. At the agency we get at least one RFP (request for proposal) a week from one of these banks. It is also promising to see some of the most talented marketers in the country – Masud Imam, Sarwat Ahmed, Aftab Khurshid to name a few, are now in banks. Hallelujah! There seems to be some movement at this front.

A point of clarification: as I usually only review TV commercials for this column I’ll not get into reviewing specific branding exercises. But I would request readers to have a look at the websites of banks in Bangladesh (http://www.bangladesh-bank.org/links/links.php?ltype=1) to get a feel of where we are at that end. By the way the first person to email me the name of the bank whose pay-off line is “a bank with a difference” wins a plate of Fakhruddin kachchi from me!

AB Bank Limited: the recent trend towards branding and advertising in the sector has been spearheaded by Arab Bangladesh Bank’s name shortening to AB Bank and the subsequent advertising blitz to popularise their new identity. AB Bank being one of the “first generation private banks” needed to weave their heritage along with the dynamism of the new technology and products that have infiltrated the industry. I believe the advertising agency Cogito got a very strong set of brand ambassadors for AB Bank. Using the generational gap of father and son duo of Ferdous Wahid and Habib, they captured the dichotomy of consumer’s various needs. They cannot seem to agree on anything in life but they agree on their bank. But look, for dissimilar reasons. “Service and reliability” says Wahid, while his son is looking for “smart and fast”. No it isn’t a message for split personality disorder, it’s just saying the bank is different strokes for different folks. AB Bank has, as they claim at the end for 25 years, been catering to diverse needs of consumers. Here is where I begin to tread cautiously with the approach. The bank is trying to own four points in consumers mind. My feeling is that overwhelmed with messages, consumers will not remember any. The “story” of AB Bank will be lost. Instead they should have focused on their pay-off more strongly. The message to be left behind is, "we alter our offerings to suit your needs." Without this, the ad leaves us only with the name recollection and not any product attributes. It will be very interesting to see how the brand custodians build on the foundation they have laid.

If we are to discuss the particular TV spot, production quality wise the director has tried to add a lot. Being a fan of both these gentlemen, I liked the differences that were brought up. And I think it captured that generational divide so well. Brazil vs. Argentina, morning exercise vs. sleep, steaks vs. maach bhaat, black vs. white, they could be any father and son pair. Particularly touching was that the other one was their favourite singer. For different customers of the bank, there will be something they can identify with. On the negative side, I didn’t care much for the soundtrack. Also, some of the sets used could have been spruced up a bit. Overall I thought it was a very good effort.

On production value I’ll give it a 6 on 10. On originality and insight: 6. On translating the idea into a TVC: 5 and Overall: 6

The City Bank: a lost opportunity to change their name along with the re-branding effort. Why still be a victim of the brand name being party of the sentence, “kon City bank? T.Y na N.A?” (“Which City Bank? T.Y or N.A?). Many companies have successfully gone through transitions like this. Lucky Goldstar is now LG and British Petroleum has gone beyond to bp. The City Bank, in addition to adding the “the”, should have been bold enough to toy with the name itself. Remember how strong Grindlays name used to be? Standard Chartered very successfully handled the merger of not only the bank, but also the brand essence of the bigger rival. I don’t believe City’s name was so strong with such equity that consumers would have rejected a change.

Furthermore while the new kite logo is attractive, it fails to inspire. I am not too sure what it is supposed to represent. It does look modern but that’s all.

The campaign, on the other hand, was very strong. Unitrend, the agency, hit the nail bang on. They captured the heart of an insight – financial service boils down to money! Isn’t it so true that we spend most of our time pre-occupied with the pursuit of the same? Now of course I would at least listen to a bank that tells me that they know “money”. And The City Bank says just that. Throughout their campaign, be it on TV, print or billboard they have emphasised on their familiarity with the same. Bringing out the history of the stuff or thought provoking quotes, they set out to prove that they know their material well.

The TV spot itself highlighted the interaction of different people with money. From finding some on the street, or having loads of it, to taking some from someone’s wallet, or having none. It chronicles our obsession with it. The voice over not only gives us knowledgeable insights, but also confidently reassures us. It’s God’s honest truth that money is so many things to us and makes us do so many things. Each of the slice of life situations shown was so believable. The man buying a fish visual re-emphasised the loudness of money, while in contrast, the shyness of the man buying the condom its quietness. The boy smiling or the woman crying, getting some was absolutely true. Overall the TV spot matched campaign rational perfectly with the brand’s promise.

Production value I’ll give it a 5 on 10. On originality and insight: 8. On translating the idea into a TVC: 8 and Overall: 8

Nazim Farhan Choudhury is the Deputy Managing Director of Adcomm Limited. Over the last 14 years he has worked on many of the leading brands of the country including 8 of the top 20 winners of the Bangladesh Brand Award 2008. Having said that, he somehow believes that there should have been more of brands that he worked for in that list. Well let us hope that this columns criticism of advertising goes some distance in helping with the promotion of the art and science of branding. If you have comments, feel free to write at farhan@adcommad.com or visit his blogsite http://nazimfarhan.blogspot.com

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