Get Up! founder warns banks: 'You can't market your way out of this problem'

Arvind Hickman
By Arvind Hickman | 23 May 2018
Gracie Vella stars in a banking lobby spot about how wonderful banks are as they continue to get grilled in a royal commission into financial services.

The banking sector’s advertising campaigns to deflect attention away from a royal commission has been described as a “classic old power response” by a global expert on social movement marketing.

Jeremy Heimans, the co-founder of Get Up! and movement marketing agency Purpose, tells AdNews that banks would be better served by trying to engage with customers about the problems that have been exposed by the financial services royal commission – such as “hypocritical and unethical” practices – rather than the charm offensive that have seen banks invest record levels of spend on advertising.

“You can't market your way out of this problem,” Heimans said. “There's no marketing solution for being hated by the majority of Australians because you were exposed for not respecting us.

“When your response isn't to engage with your key stakeholders and rebuild trust, but rather to broadcast a message that is never going to be propagated sideways by ordinary people...it's classic top down, highly scripted inauthentic communication.”

Banks record spend

In the first quarter of 2018, domestic banks spent 28.6% more in advertising than in the corresponding quarter last year, according to the Standard Media Index (SMI), which tracks the amount of money being booked by major media agency groups aside from IPG Mediabrands.

SMI ANZ managing director Jane Ratcliffe told AdNews it was obvious banks were spending more to “portray some of the more positive aspects of the industry” because they were feeling the heat.

One prominent example from the Australian Bankers Association, a lobby group for banks, says that 'nearly 80% of bank profits go straight back to shareholders'.

But, as The Saturday Paper journalist Alex McKinnon points out, "left unsaid was the fact the banks’ largest shareholders are usually wealthy direct retail investors and other banks, rather than 'everyday Australians' as the ads claim".

Other campaigns that have come under recent scrutiny include Westpac's new NRMA-style spot, which focuses on mateship and helping people.

On the ABC's advertising show Gruen, Campaign Edge creative director Dee Madigan slammed Westpac's ad as "complete bullshit" and advised banks to pause, 'remain silent for a while' and reflect on their poor practices.

Fellow panellist Todd Sampson argued that advertising was one of the only ways that banks could control their messaging during this crisis.

Heimans, who was in Australia to launch the Sydney office of Purpose and promote his new book, New Power, believes reflection and having an honest conversation with key internal and external stakeholders was the best way forward.

“The way you do that is you need to now just listen but give more power to your employees who are much better at carrying the values for you and to your consumer," he said.

“Find out what they want and change your practices, don't send them a message that you are the good guys after all. Start building a community around real stuff."

Heimans believes that a major problem with the movement marketing space is that companies think it is enough to champion a cause and market it, irrespective of whether their business is true to these values.

“The focus really should be on your model and your core practices. Focus on the transformation process first, not on the marketing of it,” he said.

It remains to be seen whether an industry that donates vast sums of money to political parties and is regularly described by politicians as 'too big to fail' will take heed of this advice.

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