ING today splashed the latest instalment of their 'Campaign for a Bit of Decency' onto the front and back covers inside and out of the Metro. ING Direct has quite a prolific history of copy led advertising. I commented on a mortgage advert of theirs a while back questioning whether simplicity and speed of application was really a desired or desirable benefit when advertising a mortgage.
Brand building by association
This latest campaign is a good example of a currently very common approach to financial services advertising that uses the classic 'benefit by association' form of persausion. This advertising technique tries to get the man on the street to associate two particular ideas, for example a brand and a benefit, by juxtaposing them regularly to force the association into our poor overloaded brains. You know the kind of thing – think of the classic advertising of Marlboro with their image of a cowboy riding on the wide open plain which was very successful at getting people to think that this particular cigarette was "cool, independent and masculine….".
So why is this type of advertising in such favour by financial services brands at the moment? It's because almost all financial services brands are caught between a rock and a hard place. The simple fact is that as consumers and citizens we loath these brands and businesses for all they stand for and have put us through over the last few years. But unfortunately due to a combination of desperate need to quickly make lots of money (from us as consumers in order to pay us as taxpayers back – ironic eh?), almost total lack of leadership, continued regulatory confusion, and a complete lack of empathy with people (both employees and customers) banks have very little that is meaningful to say about themselves. They equally have virtually nothing that is different and/or better to sell. Therefore they have to rely on the flim-flam associative brand campaign. For Natwest it's emergency cash, for Santander its a range of cashback or offers to tempt us through their doors and with ING Direct 'The Campaign for a Bit of Decency'. So let's look at whether it is good or bad?
Fashionable advertising but how effective?
Well certainly it ticks all the current fashions of advertising and I can see the marketing team and ad agency getting excited:
- It's social – builds from people and their stories – 'hundreds of us responded' apparently
- It's eminently Facebook-able and twitter-ified – note the liberal sprinkling of hash tags and urls
- It's cheap and easy and can fly the banner of "corporate social responsibility lite" – they've picked 10 'decency' winners each of which get £1000 each. "Well that's nice" you may say, good for ING giving money to these very deserving people. This is fine until you realise that the advertising cost for the ads will have been many tens of thousands of pounds – so it seems a bit topsy-turvy – more shouting than actually being on the side of decent people.
- It's local – celebrating local heroes and stories – they even managed to get a link to the Olympics – ticking another current trend box
Short term success, long term failure
So what will it achieve? I'm sure the brand tracker will jump up against key equities of trust, friendliness, on your side or whatever combination of words are being tracked by Millward-Brown. Internally employees will probably like it – what's not to like? It's positive, it's 'nice', heck it's even got medal to give away. Bet they've got a programme running internally to celebrate employee decency – and if they don't they should.
But once the bit of decency campaign has been put to bed, the metro ads are in the bin, will it really make any difference to the standing of ING Direct or the financial services sector overall? I don't think it will and in fact it will probably do even more damage to trust in the brand and sector. This type of advertising whilst in vogue is essentially the same approach to marketing and advertising that has been practised over the past 20 years by financial services brands – it's just a more modern and fluffy version.
Trust will only be restored when the hard work starts getting done
The reason that almost all financial services brands wallow in the toilet of consumer apathy, resentment, even hatred, is because the products and service are boring, difficult, unfair, give poor customer service and are focused on extracting as much money out of system whilst delivering as little benefit as possible. The real repositioning challenge in all financial services businesses is to reposition the business model, the internal culture, creating values led vision and letting employees lead with their hearts and heads to deliver better service and better products.
Unfortunately this is just too hard. This road doesn't have the backing of top leadership. The need to try and reinvent the way banking works and both extracts and contributes value to society is just too fundamental a change to tackle. Therefore we continue to get advertising and marketing that just focuses on sleight of hand, diversion, association and playing the same game that got us into the mess we are currently in. We continue to get products that are poor value, difficult to understand and mired in crap service.
…and if that wasn't enough it doesn't matter anymore because ING Direct is dead!
Oh and if you needed anymore evidence that the "Campaign for a Bit of Decency" is a pleasant but diversionary sham, ING announced on the 29th November that it is to sell ING Direct UK to Barclays – so all those customers who started to believe in 'decency' even by association will be thrown back into the mainstream of UK big 3 banking where decency is in very short supply.