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Industry Sectors: Advertising

Lucian Camp – Chairman, cchm:ping
I cannot honestly say it was the launch of Money Marketing that inspired me but, by strange coincidence, I moved in to my first specialist financial agency in 1985 – the same year that Centaur’s mighty pink organ first saw the light of day.

I came from the bright lights of mainstream advertising, where we created exciting and creative campaigns for things which came in jars, packets and cans. We looked down on the grim, grey world of financial services. Still, it was growing pretty strongly. Surely it would not be difficult to produce stuff1,000 times more lively than anything out there at that moment?

When I was invited to write this piece, I decided I would start by recounting a selection of those ghastly financial TV commercials that people were making 20 years ago. I could spend the first half poking fun at them and then make a serious point or two by contrasting their banality and naivety with the quality and originality of today’s best campaigns. The subtext would be how clever people like me have been in advancing the cause over the last 20 years. I was completely and totally wrong.

Admittedly, when the CD loaded with the 20-year-old campaigns landed on my desk, my first impression was indeed that things had changed a great deal. This was because, for one reason or another, most of the organisations had disappeared in the intervening period. You could read the consolidation story of the past 20 years simply from the CD’s packaging.

But what about my bringing-creative-light-where-previously-there-was-darkness story? Unfortunately, the TV commercials on my CD had a rather different tale to tell. The big surprise was that the 20-year-old commercials I found myself watching were generally very good indeed.

I do not know how many of them you will remember. Highlights included Hugh Lawrie and a weirdly young-looking Stephen Fry talking about something called Cash Plus for Alliance & Leicester, one of Rowan Atkinson’s first James Bond spoof commercials for Barclaycard, George Cole playing a part extremely similar to his Arthur Daley character for Leeds’ Liquid Gold and the animated Access and his friend Fat Wallet in a very funny film encouraging us to use plastic on holiday.

Even the more workaday examples – Midland Bank’s animated Griffin, for example, explaining the benefits of a Budget Account – made solid points in well-branded campaign formats. Wince-making, toe-curling and cringe-inducing moments were all but non-existent.

Perhaps most troublingly, every commercial seemed to be making an effort to communicate real benefits and real propositions based on real product stories. Not all of these were hugely exciting – Leeds, for example, hung its entertaining 60-secondmini-drama on the proposition that the initial investment in Liquid Gold had been reduced from £500 to £25, while Alliance & Leicester’s complex Fry and Lawrie dialogue hinged on the fact that you could withdraw £250 a day with its ATM card. But we have become so bad at explaining things in mass-market financial advertising these days, that these 20-year-old films were refreshing in their informativeness.

They were refreshing in another way, too. None was blighted by pointless rubbish imposed by the regulatory authorities. Of course, advertising was regulated in 1985 but it was regulated by people who understood advertising and consumers, rather than by people who know nothing about either. The results were clear, simple commercials providing understandable messages without yards of useless gobbledygook.

If anyone can explain how the consumer’s interests were threatened by the absence of hundreds of words of warnings and disclaimers, I will put my Access card into an Alliance & Leicester Cash Plus machine and pay £250 to a charity of their choice.

Anyway, if you compare the 1985 commercials with the worst of the last year or two – Barclays’ recently deceased but unlamented Samuel L Jackson campaign, Lloyds TSB’s unmissed John Thompson films, Abbey’s ridiculous “Turning banking on its head “ and “Me and my money“ fiascos, any one of Norwich Union’s brand campaigns before the current one (which is pretty good), esure and anything for offset mortgages – you would conclude that we have spent the last 20 years producing advertising which is less entertaining, less communicative, less consistent and less distinctive than we were in 1985.

Mike Richards
“This telephone will never work.“ – Western Union internal memo in1878. “Radio has no future.“ – Lord Kelvin, British mathematician, in 1897. “A weekly IFA paper?“ – Mike Richards in 1985. “Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. “ – Mike Richards in 2005.

In 1985, I was media director of a marketing agency called The Moorgate Group, working within an evensong’s distance from Nicholas Hawksmoor’s church in Spitalfields – long-time home of London’s major fruit market.

It was here where I made the prophetic misjudgement that the new IFA weekly title, preparing to be launched that year, would never work.

This is the same person who professed that the new BBC soap would never catch on because who on god’s earth would be interested in a load of East Londoners fighting in and around a manky old pub owned by a villain (cue tinny drum music).

Sitting in my office that year playing with my Transformers (a man must get his pleasures where he can), having just parked my company Sinclair C5 and sporting my new Goth look while listening to Paul Hardcastle’s 19 (did everyone’s copy jump?), I could not see a gap in the market to replace the existing duopoly of Planned Savings and Money Management.

What would be written every week? Tony Wickenden giving advice on fighting in pubs, I assumed.

Media planning was easy in those days – no satellite TV, no internet, only a smattering of commercial radio stations and, because I was capable of swearing like a trooper at the age of six, media buying was simple, too.

So, mea culpa. Guilty as charged. The advent of MoneyMarketing spurred many imitators, which makes my job much harder now.

But if the man who came selling the idea to me (sadly deceased now) gets the heavenly version of this – sorry, I was wrong, Anthony, but thanks for being one of the few people who laughed at my gags.

Jo Parker – Manging director, Team Spirit
I got my finger on the trigger but I don’t know who to trust,“ sang Bruce Springsteen. Mistrust has been a constant topic of conversation since I joined the industry nearly 20 years ago.

Our own research shows that half of people do not trust any financial services companies. The least trusted types of companies are loan companies, followed by investment companies and insurance companies. But if you are expecting to read yet another article about how we need to rebuild trust in financial services, you are not going to get it here. I have come to the conclusion that I do not think we can – even if we had multimillion-pound advertising budgets at our fingertips.

That is because mistrust is not a particular malaise which applies only to the financial services industry. It is very much part of a wider social attitude in the UK which has become more accentuated over the last 20 years. In the early 1980s, if your bank manager spoke, you listened and jumped. Now we just do not defer to the establishment like we used to.

According to Mori, 81 per cent of us do not trust what politicians say and 72 per cent do not trust business leaders. In fact, research by Opinion Leaders Research shows that more people would trust Richard and Judy over the General Medical Council when it came to advice about the MMR vaccination.

We are bombarded with around 3,000 marketing messages a day, so what we really listen to is the advice of friends, family and social experts – the guy down the pub who has made a bob or two on the stock market. Yet look at how financial services companies spend their marketing budgets compared with how people claim they are best influenced.

The industry’s spending patterns are largely the same as 20years ago and have not reflected changing influences around consumers. It is our belief that one way to start re-engaging with the public is to re-deploy just some of the budgets that are spent on big TV and direct marketing campaigns and focus them on areas which will create word-of-mouth endorsement, such as member-get-member offers, quality online information and campaigns in association with big employers, all in the spirit of a new openness and transparency which the public are demanding.


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