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  • Writer's pictureOli Shawyer

Brand bullshit

A few weeks ago, I sat in my lounge room on a Sunday evening, more or less settling into the last of the weekend. A Sunday flick donned the TV and I rather mind-numbingly stared at the motions on the screen with very little conscious attention. Until the ad-break.

At that moment, I was interrupted by a commercial that prompted me to think about my future with 'one of the biggest financial investments of my life'.

Life, with a child.

I was quite caught up in it. The music track really carried me through and I felt myself proudly looking on as the visuals told a story of a young child growing up, year by year. I, to some degree, shared the felt accomplishment of the parents as the commercial came to an end. And as it did, the screen faded on black, and the voice over delivered the statement that ', it's about more than money' (accompanied by bank logo).

Wait... what? I was so confused that I had to mute the TV to consider what I'd just observed, I was struggling to comprehend the commercial, bewildered by the fact that a bank, and my bank at that, just told me that life was about more than money. Bullshit.

Don't get me wrong - there's a lot of truth in the statement that life is, and should (always) be about more than money... but I don't think a bank has a right or place to tell me that, nor suggest it. And most certainly not the same bank that charges me unnecessary fees and uncompetitive interest rates on every respective form of transaction or loan. 

But this new positioning and strategy from the bank isn't a huge surprise. It's just the latest that's most appropriate to me and I felt the need to address it. Obsessed with the need to differentiate brands on 'uplifting', almost unbelievable purposes and promises, it follows an ongoing trend in the communications industry across a range of sectors. It's become (almost) acceptable to ignore the actual features and benefits of any brand (and their truths), and skip straight to making up what feels most aspirational (in the most dramatic way) for the modern era. It now borders on bullshit. And for all concerned, including the consumer, it's getting a bit ridiculous.

Now, I'm a huge advocate for brand purpose - and I think it has a substantial role to play, both internally and externally. But not if it has little legitimacy (or none whatsoever).

For instance, if you're going to position yourself as 'more than money', then you need to be able to authentically live out that promise. Only days after launching 'more than money', the Reserve Bank of Australia decided to cut interest rates to an unprecedented low, subsequently giving each of the big four banks the opportunity to do so themselves. It gifted the bank the opportunity to show consumers that they are, in fact, more than money.

They of course didn't and, with the other three big banks, decided not to pass on the interest rate cut.

And in the days that followed this campaign, my discomfort and frustration was clearly not alone. You only needed to visit the bank's social media channels to see that thousands of others felt the same as they too called bullshit.

I'm perplexed how and why the bank would even consider putting themselves in a position that would only see them defending off the back foot from the outset. In fact, I can imagine Karl Pilkington's 'Bullshit Man' having a role to play in the deciding meeting.

The point is of all of this - consumers aren't stupid and they're equipped to call bullshit on it. They don't need a bank to tell them they're more than money any more than they need their hair gel telling them they're breaking down the barriers of human conflict by embracing the spirit of coming together. It's a bank. It's hair gel. And anything else is mostly completely detached from the reality of why we engage and continue to engage with such services and products. 

If you find yourself in this space, working on your brands purpose, be realistic. Be authentic. Anything else is just helping justify marketing's seat outside of the C-suite, right there in the middle of 'lala' land. 


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