– 16 October 2013

The Ad

Personal banks operate in a highly competitive environment, a mass-consumer market where there is not much fat that enables one financial brand to differentiate itself from another.

Banks have tried to pare down prices to keep in step with upstarts such as Capitec, but a cheque account is a cheque account is a cheque account.

The problem most banks have is that there is a lot of parity between products and services, and financial brands have to invest heavily in innovation to differentiate (as with FNB), or go the dreaded route of cutting costs (how Capitec garnered market share).

Another aspect

Branding is another aspect where banks can successfully try to set themselves apart, in this tough retail-banking sector. Absa is certainly trying to do this with a broader effort that speaks to the self and the human spirit.

The latest campaign is based on the word “prosper”. It starts with a shot of a girl on a surfboard at sunrise, and the voice-over asks, “What does that word ‘prosper’ mean to you?”

The montage takes the viewer through various stages in people’s lives, with a simple but powerful narrative driven by the word “prosper”. The commentary expands on the theme: “It’s an ‘action word’ — like ‘dance’, ‘win’, ‘grow’, ‘care’, ‘hope’, ‘dream’ — the copy cleverly brings in a sextet of powerful words revolving around human aspiration.

Each word is supported by images that support the message: two people dancing in a field, an executive type being applauded by his peers, a farmer driving into his field, a young couple in the mud at an outdoor concert, a man cradling a baby, a scuba diver swimming under a whale. Images that demonstrate people in happy/triumphant situations that evoke an emotion, with interesting juxtapositions, such as a scene of a father and son dirt-biking on a beach, which then cuts to a small group of musicians. Each visual avoids cliché by being a little unusual — a lateral rather than literal interpretation of the copy.

Winning campaign needed

Absa needs a winning campaign now, more than ever before.

Moneyweb article recently pointed out that Standard Bank may be this country’s biggest bank by market capitalisation, but it plays second fiddle to Absa in terms of customer numbers. But, says the report, Absa has been losing ground. In 2012 it stood at some 12.2 million customers but had lost 100 000 clients in the previous year, while Standard Bank was growing its numbers.

FNB’s numbers have been going through the roof, thanks to all that clever marketing and those smart promotions. The Moneyweb article states that, from May 2011 to May 2012, FNB opened 1.7 million new accounts.

Overall message

But back to that ad. Overall, the message is uplifting and inspirational, and it does this by appealing to our ideal selves: positioning the bank as a partner in life, with the narrator intoning the copy/brand promise: “And we’ll be there, standing beside you, shoulder to shoulder. Knowing you can.”

Some images recur throughout, creating a thread, such as the little boy, being prepared for school by his mother, who reappears for the final image as he walks away and turns to smile at the camera for the final line — “Believing you will prosper”.

The colour-grade is in the desaturated, blue end of the spectrum, almost black-and-white: moody and evocative.

Similar level

Absa’s “Human Spirit” ads from earlier this year worked on a similar level, promoting the ‘warm, fuzzy’ aspect of the bank, rather than selling any particular service or product.

This campaign is beautifully shot and produced, with powerful copy. It tells a story of human aspiration that sets it apart from the rest and is inspiring without being sentimental.

Will it do the work it needs to do for Absa and increase the numbers? While the ad is beautifully done and powerful, there’s only so much marketing can do. For Absa, the real challenge will live in how it innovates its products and tries to differentiate with winning service.