Reports in the Fairfax press and the ABC  that Westpac customers received a video  on Monday, comparing bananas as borrowed cash, and smoothies as credit, is about as wacky as a bank can get. It’s probably not as strange as the bizaare Celebrex Ad  – “it won’t kill you… we hope”.
Who advised them on this? I’m guessing the same dudes who advised Vegemite to call their beer slops/cheese hybrid “iSnack 2.0″ .
Unfortunately, the storybook approach won’t convince anyone that Westpac are a good corporate citizen, and were forced by some credit storm to wack their home loan customers with an additional 20 basis points (0.2 per cent) on top of the official cash rate rise of the Reserve Bank. To most people, the additional rate rise just looks a bit greedy, which is reinforced by some overly simplistic and somewhat patronising post-hoc rationalisation.
It’s different, but not very smart promotion, and continues Westpac’s strange promotional campaigns (such as “We’re Factor 50″ advertisement) - which do more to confuse consumers about their brand idea than clarify them.
From a marketing and branding perspective, it doesn’t do Westpac any favours, either. Two of the other Big Four, the ANZ and Commonwealth Bank, also increased their interest rates above the Reserve Bank increase (0.35 and 0.37 respectively), as well as the Westpac owned, St George Bank (0.39). But now all the attention is on Westpac, ANZ and CBA can sit back and watch the furore being directed at their competitor – simply because of an ill-advised banana smoothie metaphor.
At least the video admits that the bank is a business, which highlights one of the misunderstandings that consumers unconsciously make about banks, that banks are community services. But most consumers will perceive that it is a long stretch to make a connection between bananas and international finance.
When consumers are being told, on one hand that banks continue to post substantial profits, while on the other hand that the banks are struggling to get cash and therefore need to charge consumers more for their loans, the storybook approach does little more than reinforce beliefs that banks are condescending and don’t respect the intelligence of their customers – particularly the bit where the voiceover says “We all understand this story right? A plus B equals C [which is an equation not a story]. But the same formula seem so much harder when it comes to talking about money, about lending, about mortgages, about banking.” The promotion is akin to a parent telling their teenage children to sit down, and listen to the very important fable about life, bananas, smoothies, and interest rates… and aren’t those little talks effective? And as my son says, “A plus B makes more sense than bananas and banks”.
I can see what Westpac were attempting to do – using the storybook approach might be useful if people were receptive to the message, and empathetic to the bank’s plight. But the reality is that banks are expected to be serious businesses, and while the cost of cash might be easily reduced to a three minute animation – about bananas and smoothies – most consumers probably expect more from an industry that deals with their money.
I guess it goes to show that even big corporations do dumb things from time to time – I’m looking at you Kraft, Coke, et al.
Interview with Brendan Trembath on ABC AM, 9 December 2009  (yes, I know what you are thinking… what was Paul doing up so early?)