I had a go at a mailer I received last year from Lloyds’ Bank with a post entitled “There is something rotten in the state of brand land”. As they were between campaigns at that point I guess a bit of confusion on their part was excusable. But now the new advertising is in full swing things are no better. Looking at the “Moments that matter” ads you have to ask yourself “what planet are these guys on?!”
Not a happy customer
First of all let me be totally honest – our personal customer experience with the bank has not been good of late, so I’m a bit jaundiced. We bought a new computer a few weeks ago, using my wife’s credit card. Because we don’t buy new computers every week Lloyds Bank decided this constituted “unusual activity on the account” – and suspended the card. Problem was, they neglected to inform us.
She only discovered this when trying to buy books from Amazon. Lucky she wasn’t miles from home, trying to pay for petrol, late at night. When she contacted the bank they told her what they had done, adding “we tried to call you”.
Tried? As in our customer service representative in a remote call centre had one feeble attempt and gave up before they succeeded? We both work from home so at least one of us is here 95% of the time during working hours. We have an answer machine. And they could have texted us. So what kind of “try” was that? Marks for security vigilance 9/10. Marks for communication and service 0/10.
So you could say I’m not a neutral observer when it comes to judging their marketing. But here goes anyway.
We care about you. No, really, honestly, we do, trust us on that one…
Catherine Kehoe, managing director for brands and marketing, Lloyds Banking Group, talked to Marketing Magazine and Marketing Week last September when the new campaign launched. She acknowledged that the bank, along with the entire sector, has some work to do in terms of rebuilding trust (don’t mention PPI mis-selling, Libor fixing, taxpayer bailouts or excessive bonuses). She told the interviewer that the new campaign was intended to persuade people that “what matters to our customers matters to us”. Hence the new theme of “Lloyds Bank – for the moments that matter”.
She adds that the bank is going to use the “customers’ words” and “It’s about reflecting people’s lives and not pushing products at them, and not the bank doing the talking”.
As a strategy it sounds reasonably sensible. But how well does it play out in practice? Dave Trott, in his excellent book “Creative Mischief” has a chapter entitled “The punters haven’t read the brief”. He reminds us that the conventional way of judging an ad campaign, checking how well it matches the brief, is bollocks. You are, as Dave says, “judging the work in exactly the way the consumer won’t – the consumer won’t have read the brief before they’re exposed to the work.”
So what is our reaction to this?
Right, what they are saying is “we know your family matters to you”. Blimey, how did they figure that out? What amazing insight – these guys are truly on my wavelength!
Is that really my reaction? No, I feel they are cynically playing back to me what they think I want to hear. But in a way that’s banal. Insincere. Patronising. Cynical. Sickeningly sweet and cute.
What’s more, it begs the question “so, understanding how much my family matters to me, what are you doing to help me do a better job of providing for them?” Does the ad answer that? No (the line along the bottom is the statutory small print). It is all “look and feel”, style and aspirational froth, with absolutely no substance.
All feel good factors and no information. A belly rub for first time buyers who are just expected to roll over then sit up and beg.
Tell me something that I don’t know! But what, specifically, are you doing about it? Apart from suspending my credit card when I buy my business a new computer (sorry, had to get that one in). Having decided that they don’t want to “push products” at people, what is the audience left with – sentiment, hot air, and the suspicion that they have **** all to offer the SME other than fifty shades of green.
And here’s another classic:
Does the arrival of the bank statement really fill people with this kind of euphoric contentedness? Is this a bank that understands me or one that’s taking the piss?
And my favourite. Not:
The sentimentality makes me cringe. Ripping off a line from The Beatles shows a remarkable lack of imagination – it’s just plain lazy. But what really gets me is that word slipped in surreptitiously. Being a good dad is all about loving your kids – almost. You’ve also got to have an annual income of £100,000 or £250,000 in savings or investments (read the body copy). You haven’t got that? You are a heartless parent and total loser!
The campaign is the work of RKCRY&R (on the top of a large block opposite Mornington Crescent tube station – I worked for the Y&R bit years ago), who modestly describe themselves as “The UK’s most creative agency”. Equally modestly they describe the Lloyds work as “The brand transformation story of the year”. Really?
On their website they write that “The strategic direction allows the bank to position itself as truly in tune with the needs of its customers, and there for the challenges and opportunities they face today.”
I beg to differ (but hey, I’m just an ordinary bloke who happens to be one of the bank’s customers, so what do I know?). The work convinces me that they are quite the opposite – totally out of tune with the needs of customers, from a planet in a galaxy far, far away, and so puffed up with self-belief that empathy simply means everyone else agreeing with them.
The blurb on their website continues with “RKCR/Y&R’s new creative approach features distinct and differentiated creative that redefines the bank, and carves a unique position for Lloyds Bank within the financial services sector.” Distinct and differentiated? In what way? All the ads are green, whereas RBS, Barclays and Nat West are blue – is that what you mean? The ads are so devoid of any information that looking for any meaningful point of difference is an entirely futile exercise.
CEO Ben Kay adds “The rebrand afforded us an opportunity to revisit and draw on the role banks should play in customers’ lives today.” There’s a weasel right there – the word “should”. The work draws on the role banks should play, not the one they do play. So we’re not talking fact here, but fantasy. The ads are a projection of the role banks would play, or might play, if their number one priority was to increase the sum of human happiness. They paint a rosy picture (with green tinge as specified in new brand guidelines) of an idealised happy-clappy world, or a fairy story, where everything is perfect and everyone lives happily ever after. This stuff (I’m being polite) is pure wish fulfilment – a truth-free adman’s lala land.
How many people, at the bank and the agency, were involved in creating this campaign? Hundreds. And they all seem to go along with the idea that branding is about painting pictures that are totally aspirational – feeding consumers a sugar coated lie that bears no relationship to current reality. From my own reaction, and other comments online, plenty of consumers are just not buying this tosh – they’re simply not as gullible as the marketers seem to believe.
I can’t work with these people
The marketing industry is now stuffed full of people who “live the brand”. They delude themselves into thinking the fantasy world they live in, and which they have helped to create, is real. And go around feeding themselves, and the public, “future truths”, pretending that what everyone would like to happen has already happened – pure doublethink.
The ordinary punter, who is on the receiving end of the mediocre service and very average products, sees it very differently. And yet the marketing people keep waffling on about how “we understand”. It’s about as convincing as posh boys like David Cameron and George Osborne saying “we share your pain and we’re all in this together”.
I have done work for Lloyds Bank years ago, plus a few other big financial institutions like Legal & General, Coutts and Halifax. And I’ve worked for top agencies like Saatchi and Saatchi and Y&R. But I just can’t stomach it any more.
I much prefer working for smaller and medium sized businesses that really are offering something truly different, genuinely have something to say for themselves and where the marketing people have not lost touch with reality – see my earlier post “I’m sold on my clients”.