The resurrection of creative brands – Part 2

06 Feb, 2024

In the first part of this article series we looked at the problem of what we call ‘targeted is enough’ marketing and others would call “Performance advertising”. In this article, we explore why for financial services brands this marketing approach is even more damaging.

If the customer could buy your product off the page you direct them to then all well and good, I think performance ads have a role. For FS though no one buys off one ad or one webpage. It is a much bigger decision and relies on a huge amount of trust, and that trust is built by people understanding and liking what brands do and stand for.

We have been telling clients that their communications need to be engaging, likeable, human and driven by a brand idea for a very long-time and to be honest it has often fallen on deaf ears. There were some clients that got it and got great effective work in return. There were some clients that said they got it then saw the result and balked. But there were also too many clients who we pitched for and simply didn’t win. One example stands out and haunts me, the brief said “we want to standout – be creative and go crazy”, we duly did, creating an entire world for this brand. It was some of the best work we had ever done. The slack jaws at the pitch presentation and the rapid follow up to say “sorry but we could never do that” told us all we needed to know.

It was tough, but for the most part we stuck to our guns. Suffered the many meetings where new business leads said “we wish we could do work like that”. But things seem to be changing. As we show the last few years of our work which focusses so heavily on making impactful, engaging and standout brand communications we have many more clients seeing the importance of brand and how ineffective ‘performance ads’ have actually been. I sit in many more creds meetings now where potential clients don’t say “we wish we could do work like that”, they say “we need to do work like that”.

But we know persuading non-marketers of this is hard so we have been doing research to try and understand better what is going on and provide the evidence to back up our beliefs. The truth is that for a long time we haven’t had evidence that damage was being done to brands. Data was so readily available from media and analytics that many brands cut back on proper research. But all the time the click data seemed to be showing worse and worse effectiveness. Luckily we found some research from a media partner that showed a shocking fall of 50% in brand recall over the last decade. It was only a fraction of the picture so we decided to carry out our own qualitative research a year ago looking at FS ads in FS focussed media. It showed us many of the basics we have always known have been forgotten and many brands’ marketing communications have become wallpaper that people can far too easily forget, or worse ignore. Covered in too much information and visually bland, data has made brands treat people like data and they need to be treated like people. As Rory says, “the notion of a relationship with the consumer based on a mutual understanding and a recognition of shared humanity has been lost entirely”.

We followed this research up with quantitative research at the end of last year which showed us in clear hard numbers why advisors are recommending brands. And it made a complete lie of so much of what FS marketing has been doing for years. It is the absolute proof of Rory Sutherland’s article. We are currently presenting this research to anyone who is interested. The feedback so far has been unanimous shock, every marketer has said some version of “this proves what I have always believed, can I use this internally with my stakeholders?”, obviously we say yes. But what gives me a huge sense of optimism is that they believe stakeholders will listen. And therein lies the green shoot of hope, marketing teams seem to have stakeholders who appreciate the value of brand more than I can ever remember. Yes Rory, the “shared humanity” had been lost but I think people are starting to look for it again.