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The bitter-sweet ads designed to win back trust in financial services

How do you win the trust of consumers when the recent history of your industry is punctuated by insurance mis-selling scandals and the global financial crisis? Add to that widespread disinterest in and limited understanding of your products, which are largely to do with debt, death, disability and deferred happiness rather than living in the now, and you can sense the challenge facing those with the task of marketing financial services and making them appealing.

Historically the names and symbols of those in the financial services business helped anchor complex and intangible products to recognisable words and concepts. Financial institutions were “provident”, “prudential” or “mutual”, and were created to “secure provisions for widows” (Scottish Widows) or “for the purpose of affording clerks and others provision for old age” (Aviva). Financial brands used images of strength, stability and prudence: the beehive was common as a symbol of industry, thrift and regeneration. Ironically, Northern Rock the bank whose collapse signalled the onset of the financial crisis in the UK was distinctly rugged-sounding.

Today, one of the most recognisable symbols is the galloping black horse of Lloyds Banking Group, inherited from a 17th-century City of London goldsmith. Lloyds, founded in 1765, celebrated 250 years with a television advert featuring not mortgages or banks but the horse itself, as we follow it grow from a foal to a stallion, representing centuries of corporate history and the various stages of our own lives: birth, friendship, love, loss and change.

The bank’s current advert features the horse once more, galloping to the emotive soundtrack of Tears for Fears’ Mad World through a more human-centric life alongside the slogan: “For your next step”, for which Lloyds itself adds that it will “be by your side”. These slogans are repeated in its billboard advertisements which bear captions that range from the predictable – starting a business, buying a home – to the less saccharine, such as “I don’t love you anymore” above a parting couple, or a widow’s goodbye.

What’s implied here is that endings, as well as beginnings, are also times that bring the need to re-visit financial plans. Known as negative emotional appeal, this approach is actually characteristic of financial services providers, government public information broadcasts, and the sorts of charitable appeals that try to shock would-be donors into action.

The reason this approach is considered appropriate for the finance industry is because consumers are not only generally unaware of the sorts of financial products available: they are also unaware of the sorts of problems those financial products are designed to solve. The answer is to use graphic or sensational images or “straight-talking” to stimulate recognition of the circumstances, and therefore the need, that is the first stage towards making a purchase.

Although the use of technology is new, the message is a very familiar one. In the 1990s the now-defunct Allied Dunbar produced the memorable “For the life you don’t yet know” campaign based on the lyric “There may be trouble ahead” from Irving Berlin’s “Let’s face the music and dance”.

The campaign shared similar objectives captured in their respective taglines “for the next step” and “for the life you don’t yet know”. The message is one of building a lasting relationship with your financial provider to cope with life’s fluctuating fortunes.

Today’s marketers have coined the term “event-based marketing” to describe the process whereby key events in the lives of customers are identified as a trigger for specific marketing activities. Financial planners have long understood the life events that trigger the need for new, or a revision of existing approaches, to finance. All financial planning is undertaken from the perspective of what is known about current and future priorities.

Some viewers will undoubtedly be left with a warm, fuzzy feeling – something that research suggests can transfer into a favourable attitude towards the brand – but it’s unclear how exactly Lloyds is the “hero” of the commercial, nor how viewers will respond to an ad that contains positive and negative elements. If Lloyds’ objectives are to rebuild trust in a battered brand then the campaign may well have some impact. But we have yet to see if consumers see fit to put their faith in Lloyds to help them through life’s fluctuating fortunes.

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