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HSBC’s £400m global review that never was

March 9, 2013

Chris Clark HSBCSo, what was all that about? HSBC’s group marketing director Chris Clark calls a review of the “£400m” (actually rather less these days) global account late last year. Well, not exactly a review. More a series of private meetings that happen to take in the incumbent agency’s rivals at Omnicom, IPG and Publicis – just in case they have any bright ideas. No fundamental discussions take place on either strategy or creativity, because none are called for, even from the incumbent JWT.

Sniffing a rat, McCann (IPG) and BBDO (Omnicom) pull out. Late yesterday (a good time to bury news) it trickles out that WPP has, er, retained the account. But there have been a few twists of the kaleidoscope. Most salient is that outsider Saatchi & Saatchi (Publicis) will now handle the small-spending (relatively speaking) retail banking and wealth business across Europe and in Latin America. JWT is still at the epicentre, with the global brand business, but will now share the rest of the account with its WPP sister agency, Grey London.

Is this a classic piece of agency punishment meted out by the client? We still like you, WPP: but you’ve gone a bit flabby. So, just to make sure you’re on your toes, we’ll keep you on tenterhooks for a few months and then award a chunk of business to one of your rivals – to see how hungry they are.

Was it simply an exercise in cheese-paring the fees, as JWT officially likes to see it, on the part of one of the world’s wealthiest institutions?

Or is this Chris Clark desperately trying to justify his job as CMO (in all but name)? A marking time exercise, while he and his boss, HSBC chief executive Stuart Gulliver, dream up a successor to the faded strap line, The World’s Local Bank?

Because, of course, it isn’t anymore. If you rolled the market capitalisation of Barclays, Lloyds Bank and RBS together, they wouldn’t add up to that of HSBC – which remains by far Britain’s largest bank. But internationally, Gulliver has been busy rolling back the borders, with the divestment of businesses from as far afield as Argentina, Russia and Singapore. The proceeds of which were one contributory reason for the humungous profits the bank was able to declare only last week.

In the recent past, Clark has talked up the need to spend more marketing pounds on the product side (i.e., the separate bank businesses) and less on the corporate brand. One reasonable interpretation of this stance is that banks, in these bonus-bashing times, would do well to get their heads down to providing some basic customer service, as opposed to extravagantly boasting about their global expanse.

Another (they are not mutually exclusive) is that Clark and his colleagues haven’t got a clue what they should do. “In the future” doesn’t quite do it, does it? And in any case, as Clark himself once quipped, it’s more of a start than an end line.

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Adam & Eve sets its seal on creative style with Google+ work

April 5, 2012

All advertising is, in a certain sense, the cultivation of cliché. Agencies first determine – with whatever artifice their planning departments can provide – suitable socio-economic stereotypes which their creative departments then bombard relentlessly with the most seductive messages they can contrive.

Success and consistency in this trade leads to agency work acquiring a highly recognisable hallmark. “Branding”, if you like; “generic cliché” if you don’t. For example, Boase Massimi Pollitt became widely known for its attachment to furry animals, Allen Brady & Marsh for its mastery of the jingle-ad and Bartle Bogle Hegarty for its creative reinvention of pop culture.

I was reminded of this insight when reviewing Adam & Eve’s first work for Google+, the search giant’s overarching response to Facebook and Twitter. Here it is:

Notice anything about it? Yes, it is another fine piece of work from a hot-shop coming of age. Yes, Benedict Cumberbatch has missed out the Seventh Age of Man in “All the World’s a Stage”. But since it’s all about Second Childhood, “sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything”, and this is a piece of consumer advertising, the agency can be forgiven for the omission. Something else?

Yes. The “Journey Through Life” theme, which A+E (not to be accidentally confused with A&E) has made its own. Particularly in a suburban, middle-class context. Here, just to remind you is some John Lewis advertising by the same agency:

It’s a theme that the James Murphy, David Golding and Ben Priest team seem to have imported from Rainey Kelly Campbell Rolfe/Y&R – from which they spectacularly broke away in 2007. Judging, at least, by this early Lloyds Bank commercial from the self-same:

I have my own modest contribution to the “Life’s journey” genre. It’s taken from John Dryden:

Like pilgrims to the appointed place we tend; the world’s an inn, and death the journey’s end.

No takers in advertising, I suspect. But it was the inspiration of a famous play.


Banking brands go into the red

May 27, 2009

images¡Qué sorpresa! Spanish bank Santander is scrapping the Abbey, Bradford & Bingley and Alliance & Leicester brands. A&L will be the last to go, at the end of 2010, when Santander covers over the last rebellious traces of orange and blue with its comforting corporate red and ‘Mr Whippy’ logo.

The root-and-branch £12m rebrand seems to have come as a bit of a surprise to director of brand and communication Keith Moor  – who earlier this year made the mistake of pouring cold water on the idea – but it should not surprise the rest of us. (Does the UK right hand really know what la mano izquierda is doing back in Spain, by the way?)

Despite the fact that Abbey, B&B and A&L have a long, and largely honorable, legacy, they are in extra time as brands.

Santander already owned Abbey and had earlier put a stop to a fluffy, and largely purposeless, corporate revamp of the brand.

B&B and A&L were booty hauled out of the credit crunch. The very fact that they nearly went bust before acquisition also sealed their future as brands. In a world where credit is tight, there is less room for marketing to manoeuvre. There will be no easy money on the wholesale market for the foreseeable future to facilitate product differentiation; and every reason for bringing expensive, badly run organisations under a more efficient, and austere, banking umbrella.

Which is why Santander is having such a good recession. It managed not to overstretch itself during the seven fat years, and now it’s getting its pay-off during the seven lean ones. “Customers trust us as a global brand and they feel very safe about their savings,” says Antonio Horta-Osorio, chief executive of Santander’s UK operations. Exactly.

More intriguing is where this brand-culling activity leaves Lloyds Banking Group. As former chairman Sir Victor Blank can testify, the grand strategic union between Lloyds and HBOS is not all it appeared at the time it was consumated, there being a number of bottomless black holes in HBOS’ balance sheet. Lloyds, too, will be looking for prudent savings and we have already witnessed one of them in its decision to put Clerical Medical on the critical list. Intelligent Finance, the internet arm, could well follow. And – who knows? – Halifax itself may not be safe. There are no sacred cows these days, now that the bull market of all bull markets is over.


Aviva makes a laughing-stock of itself

April 30, 2009

 

A real case for name change

A real case for name change

When it comes to media-stoked ridicule, there’s nothing quite like a corporate rebranding exercise. Who could forget the spendthrift waste that was the BT piper? Or the grotesquely expensive if temporary transformation of the Post Office plc into Consignia?

Aviva, formerly Norwich Union, is proving no different. £80m and several years later we have irate shareholders berating the Aviva board over  Ringo Starr and Bruce Willis being such a waste of space. I must say I have some sympathy. Couldn’t they have chosen some slightly more interesting examples of necessary name changes in the ads, such as Archibald Leach into Cary Grant and Marion Morrison into John Wayne?

But that’s an aside. As a global company harbouring a rag bag of national names, the case for a corporate rebranding at Aviva was overwhelming. It’s just such a pity they ended up with a bland Latinism that sounds more like a brand of fish aquarium than a serious financial institution.

Now Norwich Union, there was a name to conjure with. When Lord Sharman, chairman of Aviva, defended the rebranding he claimed that the insurer’s brand awareness had grown from 35% to 80%. Only if you count in countries that had never heard of Norwich Union in the first place, I suspect.

Postscript: Is Lloyds going the same way as Aviva? It has already started a cull of HBOS brands by putting Clerical Medical on death row.


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