THE BLAND PLAYED ON
So: we’ve got two new bank brands in the UK. Have you noticed how fascinating they are? How revolutionary? How completely tuned to the zeitgeist? How brilliant their launch campaigns are? No, me neither.
Clearly, neither Lloyds Bank or TSB have anything fresh or interesting to say. So what have they done? In the case of TSB, they gone for a ‘heritage’ message – harking back to the original philanthropic ideals of their founder and, in the case of Lloyds Bank, they’ve trotted out some platitudes IN VERY BIG LETTERS to make it seem like they’re saying something worthwhile and important.
Yes, apparently having a home is an important thing in people’s lives. And so is borrowing money to start a business. And so is ‘protecting’ one’s family with insurance. Apparently we need Lloyds Bank to remind us of these things. IN UPPER CASE with the help of full-bleed colour photography of dogs and toddlers.
You may be aware that having somewhere to call home and loving your family are important but for Lloyds Bank, these things are — quite literally — front page news. And on The Daily Telegraph at least, Lloyds has made them back page news too:
I’ve got a young daughter and funnily enough, I don’t really need a bank to remind me that she matters to me. My mum is pretty important too. And my dad and brother and the rest of my family. I knew this without a helpful, full-page, full colour ad from a retail bank. But anyway — those nice people at the bank think family is an important thing. Wow.
What’s more, I also know that banks lend money and provide insurance. But as we’re using upper case to state the headbangingly obvious, here goes: BANKS LEND MONEY AND PROVIDE INSURANCE. IT’S WHAT BANKS DO. ALL BANKS.
My question is: where is the news here? Home matters. Family matters. Business matters. Banks lend money and insure. With a very simple journalistic approach to this: where’s the story? This is very much in ‘dog bites man’ or ‘woman has baby’ territory. Tell me something that will surprise me and preferably delight me too. We call that advertising.
Lloyds seems to have forgotten the difference between the indefinite article and the definite article – ie. ‘a’ and ‘the’ — the general and the specific. When you’re spending millions of pounds on advertising, surely the point is to advertise THE bank – ie. yours. The things that make your bank like no other. The things that make it exceptional, remarkable, distinctive. Unique, even. You know – the kind of words that suggest you offer something different from and better than your competitors.
My advice would be: don’t advertise the things that make a bank a bank. Why advertise the most fundamental aspects of your sector? Not even of your brand — but of the sector as a whole. In the retail banking sector, this seems like such a wasted opportunity – where people are crying out for something genuinely new, customer-focussed and challenging of the status-quo.
It shouldn’t be surprising that UK banks are so relentlessly unsurprising. Despite calling their sector ‘retail banking’, it took them many, many years to realise that it might be a good idea to open on Saturdays. They still think it’s something worth advertising. Can you imagine any other major retailer doing that? “Marks & Spencer. Now open on Saturdays throughout the UK.” And here we are in the 21st century, no UK bank opens on Sundays and hardly any open in the evening.
One of our beloved retail banks styles its services as ‘Helpful Banking’. Perhaps we should be thrilled. It’s as if we’re so inured to rubbish banking, to crooked, money-laundering banking, to ‘computer says no’ banking, dishonest banking, to ‘big fat bonuses’ banking and ‘dreadful customer service’ banking that anything that gets close to ‘quite good’ or ‘not entirely lamentable’ banking will have us all whooping for joy. Perhaps this is why Lloyds and TSB think rolling out some dull platitudes will do the trick.
I don’t think it’s any coincidence that First Direct, the UK retail bank with the most interesting things to say also has customer advocacy rates that are off the scale. They also have metaphorical shelves sagging under the weight of awards. First Direct is the envy of retail banks around the world. Perhaps it’s also no coincidence that First Direct has the most distinctive advertising:
So, let’s be constructive. Here’s a three-point plan for anyone who fancies a foray into the UK retail banking market:
1) In your communications, don’t just reinforce what a bank is and why people care about personal finance in general. (People aren’t completely stupid, so they know both of those things already).
2) Do some stuff that is newsworthy, innovative and genuinely of value to people.
3) Talk about that stuff.
If it’s a choice between platitudes and a platypus, choose the platypus. It seems to work for First Direct.