Thursday, October 23, 2008
Bank advertising from la-la land
I've seen ridiculous bank advertising over the years. I once sat through an agency presentation in Wellington, New Zealand during which both the client and the creative team puffed up proudly over scenes of people diving into piles of coins. So fresh! So un-pompous! So NOT what you'd expect from the typical BANK!
And that was true. Not what I would expect from the typical ADULT. I didn't smile. Probably the first time in my life I didn't smile with my client. I always smile when my client smiles. But the actors in the video clip diving into piles of coin were covered in gold paint. The music was from Cabaret. I seem to remember plumage of some sort. I couldn't have smiled if they had rubbed me with sheep's milk. They lost me completely. And I lost that client.
During the dot-com frenzy, First Union Bank aired television ads born from the union of bank pomposity with agency conceit. I remember blasts of stormy air, people running and screaming, bowler hats flying around – and then a towering presence, a massive building rising and dominating the chaos like the Eighth Wonder of the World. It was the First Union building. It was us, we, the greatest. I'm sure the agency left the first screening feeling like kings. We nailed it, baby! Did you see the CEO's face when the clouds parted and the sun-beams shot through?
First Union caved, of course. Couldn't hack the competition and sold out to Wachovia. WACHOVIA. Does that name ring a bell? Surely you've seen their recent, cocky commercials featuring customers being blessed by raining dollars while the other schmucks stare in envy. When I first saw these commercials – oh to turn back the clock! – I should have RUN to a stock broker – any guy who could pull the trigger on a trade – and hocked everything I own to short Wachovia's stock. Money would have poured down on me. I should have remembered: First Union! Probably the same marketing team! The sheer idiocy of these images and this haunting line: "Are you with Wachovia?"
Then this week – Wachovia declared the largest loss in the history of advertising... uh, banking. Money wafted out the door by the billions, apparently. The bank will be taken over by Wells Fargo – they of the dusty stage-coach logo and the sober management, they that remember a bank is a place of predictability and industry and hard work and care and prudence.
I am not against whimsical advertising, even for a major financial institution. Why should beer makers have all the fun? I just get very cranky when bank marketers encourage their ad agency to get creative... have some fun... let out all the stops... show us what you can do... let your right brain run wild... while the bankers themselves are driving their organizations into the mud.