How banks can re-build trust through advertising

The 'poor' banks have had a torrid time of it lately.

LloydsTSB's 'cutesy cartoon characters' has helped the bank change its old fashioned image
LloydsTSB's 'cutesy cartoon characters' has helped the bank change its old fashioned image

Since the collapse of Lehman Brothers, the queues outside Northern Rock and the subsequent public bailout of some of the leading high street banks; trust, confidence and satisfaction has fallen significantly. And as if things weren’t bad enough they face a multi-billion pound payout to consumers for mis-selling insurance with loans.  Bad PR for the banks has been constant over the last few years.

Prior to the 2008 watershed in the finance world you’d have been hard pushed to find ad campaigns from the leading financial institutions that were well branded and entertaining.  Howard from the Halifax was the one exception (delivering a strongly branded message in a differentiating style) proving to be engaging and relevant.  At the time, Halifax spent a similar amount to Barclays and Natwest yet achieved almost double the level of ad standout, very much in line with the number one learning we preach at Ipsos ASI – ‘Creative is King’!  A strong creative idea is worth a whole lot more than lots of cash spent on an ‘average’ ad. 

Lately banks have been pulling out all the stops to create distinctive and memorable campaigns aiming to rebuild confidence and trust.  As a result, finance ads, which in the past have suffered from low levels of recall are now enjoying greater attention from consumers.  For example, the Natwest ‘Helpful Banking’ Campaign regularly appears towards the top of Campaign's 'Reality Check'.

All banks are spending heavily– but which is "on the money" with its messaging?  Our work  has shown that the most persuasive messages to encourage account switching are ones that demonstrate financial competency with our money and can show off a portfolio of innovative products and services.  But any message needs to be delivered in a way that engages - difficult, as it is often not a category that evokes positive emotions. 

That being said, the award winning cutesy cartoon characters behind the LloydsTSB campaign have helped the tax-payer owned bank change its steady, yet old fashioned image to one looking to engage, and build up long term relationships as we go through our difficult journey that is life.  The ‘big idea’ developed around the campaign is such that it works seamlessly across a number of different touchpoints being used to engage with both private and business customers.

Santander are employing Messrs Hamilton and Button to try and promote trust in the Spanish finance giant through the strapline ‘driven to do better’ – acknowledgement that in the past the banks have not always got it right! 

Social media will also play a key role in overturning current fortunes.  We conduct ‘social listening’ monitoring the web for "buzz" - whether positive or negative for particular brands.  The fortunes of a brand can change in an instant (just take a look at the NOTW and Toyota a few months ago!). So it is vitally important that banks keep abreast of the changeable consumer and react as necessary with their communications.

Damaged reputations can be repaired, there are numerous examples of companies bouncing back from the doldrums - British Airways, M&S and McDonalds to name a few. McDonalds for example, has successfully returned to favour as a result of actions (introducing ethically sourced ingredients and healthier menu options) followed up by communications that informed the public of these changes in an engaging way.

So whatever the message, it is absolutely essential that the promises made are followed up with ‘action’.  Any vacuous promises will certainly derail the green shoots of confidence and trust that the banks manage to rebuild with their expensive campaigns.

Jamie Robertson is a director at Ipsos MORI - ASI