WTF, Financial Advertising? [What’s the Focus?]

I’ve been watching a lot of financial advertising lately, and I can’t help but wonder where all the typical metaphors have gone. If you’ve ever seen a commercial about a middle-aged man getting ready for his daughter’s wedding, (cue the flashback vignette of her birth, first tooth, college graduation, etc.,) well, you’ve seen them all.

But much of that seems to be changing.  In fact, financial advertising is undergoing an interesting transformation in that the commercials today are, as a group, much less about the money/ security/ wealth promise and more about the technology with which you can access it. Financial advertising has shifted the vector. And in a sense, it’s emblematic of our cultural catch-up with technology – new devices, broadband, more access – and how we choose to interact with our institutions.

John Hancock insurance is running a campaign now where a single person is seen sitting in a relatively quiet environment (on a train, at a diner, in an office) sending a text message to someone (likely a spouse) talking about retirement and/or some other financial benchmark.  “Remember we used to say ‘when’ we retire” the off-screen counterpart texts, and the exchange ensues.  It’s pithy, to be sure.  But it’s wildly interesting in that the technology part of the engagement takes center stage in the advertising.  The texting IS the creative.

Similarly, Bank of America is running a campaign to promote its app for smartphones.  A few friendly talking heads extol the virtues of checking balances, transferring funds, finding ATMs “all right from my phone.”  Here, the technology is the hero and it easily outshines the services it enables. And of course, how can Citi resist the urge to bring a Facebook reference to their ads with a spot where a guy buys a laptop for his mom with a Citi card and she turns into a social networking monster: “then one day…she friend-ed me.”

And recently, there have been several new commercials that have foregone actors altogether (for Northwestern Mutual, JP Morgan Chase) and instead feature tech-inspired motion graphics to communicate brand points like trying to “recapture that feeling of financial invincibility” (Northwestern) and “being a leader means moving fast,” (JP Morgan Chase.)  All tech, no touch.

While there’s nothing wrong with this collective approach – advertising has always borrowed pop culturally relevant isms – it just seems off the mark.  Combined, these companies are paying hundreds of millions of dollars to air these commercials and they seem to want to focus on the pathways rather than the destinations.  It’s like developing advertising for a new shopping mall and creating spots touting how shiny and new the highways are that lead to it.

Advertising should be singular.  But the single focus you choose should be the highest benefit you can claim for your product or service.  In best-case scenarios, it should be the benefit that no one else can claim, or claim nearly as well.  I’m just not sure that “we offer technology” offers enough juice to convince an already fragmented, already distracted, already engaged audience to bank/invest/insure here.

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One thought on “WTF, Financial Advertising? [What’s the Focus?]

  1. markkolier October 22, 2010 / 9:06 pm

    Great point Nader and it would so easy to include the E-trade spots since at the root of it aren’t they all about the ease of use of the technology? The babies are cute (another overused tactic) but no product attributes other than the technology is easy to use. Your point well taken.

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