Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Further Dutch Dubiousness

Entirely a coincidence this, my second post in a row about a Dutch bank. This time, though, I promise not to include gratuitous link-whoring keywords designed to attract the attention of the larger Brooklyn blogs.

But I've been threatening for a while to do an occasional series on the awfulness that is financial advertising. This will be a tricky gig to pull off, because financial advertising ultimately funds my day job, and I'll also have to be slightly careful that I don't use adverts that run in titles with which I'm associated.

Still, the vapidity that passes for marketing in financial services never ceases to appall me. This is by no means confined to print - my decision to watch NY1 in the morning stemmed in large part from the terrible wealth management ads that run on CNN at that time of day (the impotence ads that run on Anderson Cooper? Fine).

It's a thankless task, mind you, presenting a conservative and reliable front while desperately trying to imprint your brand on the indifferent viewer. The only safe venues for this are sports promotion (golf, sailing, ultimate fighting) and possibly bribing journalists. the latter approach, more's the pity, is no longer fashionable.

Making outrageous claims about your ability to achieve outsized returns is also a no-know, unless you include so many qualifiers and disclaimers as to muddy the message irredeemably. Moreover, it has become very unfashionable to remind your clients of how greedy they are. The nadir in this respect was Citigroup's "life's about more than money, eh?" campaign, which nauseated the New York metro area a few years back.

European banks, however, tend to be the worst offenders, whether through language differences or the heightened conservatism of European sources of capital. And our first victim comes from Holland. It is an advert that ING ran in the Economist.

Its pitch can be boiled down to one tag line: "We sponsor Formula 1 - pretty cool, eh?" Beyond this, the advert is without any nutritional value at all. Take the main statement "Only by understanding your needs can we provide you with the right solution." I can translate this from the Dutch: "We will do what you want us to do," which is reassuring coming from a service industry. Sort of like a food maker saying "we taste good".

"Whether in banking, insurance, asset management, or Formula 1, the key to success is the same. It's all about making the right decisions based on facts and figures." This is reassuring. ING will not pull an idea out of their ass and present it to you as the New Hotness. Because you can't do that in motor car racing. To me, this seems to be setting the bar awfully low.

it's at times like these I can sympathise with the attitude of the larger investment banks, which tend not to advertise on such a profligate scale, beyond occasionally announcing a completed deal or letting you know what their new logo is. If you can't find something interesting to say, best not to say anything.

[Slightly off topic, but do you wish that Saab stopped advertising cars based on their ability to make jet planes? It's been decades since the Jetsons came out, and as far as you, I, or the highway patrol are concerned, they're still completely different things.]


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