Wednesday 18 July 2012

Big banks fail to live up to their advertising promises - again.

Back in the mid-80's when there were no computers on desks, when PA's typed everything on golf ball typewriters (no one else had keyboard skills) and when if you needed to phone the office urgently you had to find a phone box,  I was an aspiring young 'suit' at an agency called Yellowhammer, which had a reputation for being one of the hottest creative shops in London. I worked on the Barclays Bank account and they had briefed us to come up with a series of commercials which communicated the more personal, friendly service you would get at Barclays in this high-tech (yes seriously) world of the 80's. This was also before financial deregulation and before Barclays had become an investment bank on the scale it is today.

The creatives came back with concepts for three commercials which were set in a futuristic Bladerunner world (the film had just come out), where people couldn't get to talk to anyone but robots and of course there was only one person they wanted to direct it - Ridley Scott.

So the bank bought the idea and so did Ridley Scott. The budget for shooting the three commercials back-to-back (all at the same time) at Pinewood was an eye watering £1.6 million, which no one was aloud to talk about, because back then these were the most expensive commercials ever made. Remember we didn't have CGI so you just had to build a lot of the set.

Why I am doing this post? Because at the weekend page ads were taken out by Barclays Bank with a letter from the (soon to retire) Group Chairman, Marcus Agius. It was addressed to Barclays Customers and in the letter it says, "You are the lifeblood of our business and we will not allow ourselves to be distracted from what really matters - delivering to you day in and day out. My colleagues work tirelessly to do just that." Now if I remember rightly that was very much what the brief said back in 1986. But maybe the truth is the big four banks don't really care because what they know is that people simply don't switch bank accounts. A report by Moneysupermarket last week revealed that a fifth of customers had "lost trust" in their bank and intended to move it elsewhere but the reality is somewhat different with the big banks reporting that their has been no increase in closing and moving of accounts. Maybe this has more than a little to do with the 30 days on average it takes to transfer your account to a new provider and the considerable hassle involved.

So in truth the big banks don't have to live up to the promises today any more than they did when we were making the Ridley Scott commercials. But maybe things are about to change as new legislation which comes in at the end of 2013 will cut the maximum switch time for your current account to seven days. And enquiries are up with the new pretender banks -  such as Metro Bank, Virgin Money, Cooperative Bank, M&S Money and also with good old fashioned mutual Building Societies, which are suddenly looking a lot more 'human'.  Mutuality seems to sit more comfortably in these times of austerity than big bank profits and I notice that the Nationwide and Yorkshire Building Society had page ads in last Sunday's papers saying exactly that. 

So it's taken nearly thirty years but maybe things are going to change. A combination of new competition, new regulations but also critically a world in which the internet and the social web has meant that companies have to be more transparent and accountable, means that the banks will really start having to live up to some of that advertising puffery. 

Let's hope so.


  1. Very good article. It shows that now more than ever all brands have to deliver the customer experience they promise or risk the backlash from consumers. Look what happened in the US, when Bank of America proposed the introduction of banking charges on current accounts. There was an immediate negative consumer reaction, driven by social network which forced Bank of America to drop their plans within days.

    1. Thanks for your comment Martin. Back in the 80's when we made this commercial, negative consumer reaction was something which could largely be ignored - how things have changed... and for the better I believe.