We’ll never know. But we do know what she thought about girls who went to Yale (“If all the girls who attended the Yale prom were laid end to end, I wouldn’t be a bit surprised”). And about drinking (“ â€œI wish I could drink like a lady / I can take one or two at the most / Three and I’m under the table /Four and I’m under the hostâ€). And, more relevantly, about the actress Katharine Hepburn, who, she memorably if unfairly said, “runs the gamut of emotions from A to B.”
It’s difficult to imagine her paying much attention to current UK advertising for investment funds. She didn’t care much about advertising or investments, she was an American, and she died in 1967. But if she had, I think she might have saved the Katharine Hepburn quote for them. Because the thing is, the campaigns are all incredibly samey.
I can hear you taking in breath and preparing to disagree. “Au contraire,” you’re thinking. “Investment funds advertising has never been more varied. Look at Artemis, with their retro illustrations. And Gartmore, with their square-jawed fund managers. And New Star with their lairy star. And invesco Perpetual with the cool monochrome mountain. I could go on, but I’ve run out of breath.”
Well, yes but. These campaigns are superficially different. And so are several others you could have mentioned – Newton, M&G, Investec, Jupiter too. But under the surface, none of them is really very different. Ultimately, they’re all about how successfully we manage the money. Some use realism to communicate this: here are the managers of a certain successful fund, and here is some copy about how they do it. Some use analogy: here are some retro 30s style illustrations of hunters acting as a metaphor for the way we manage money. Some use explanatory copy, often together with icons – mountains, stars, bulls – that help brand the communication. Some use borrowed interest that’s more campaign-specific – gliders, weather symbols. But to Dorothy, these would be a bit like Katharine’s haisrtyles and costume changes: under the surface, it’s still Katharine Hepburn.
Let me make the same point another way. Think about what the campaigns don’t do. None of them is at all to do with the consumer, or with any kind of end benefit to the consumer. The visuals, either literally or metaphorically, are all of the world of the fund manager. None gives any sense of being targeted towards a particular consumer segment, in terms of demographics, behaviour or attitude. Although some do have some emotional colouring, none offers an emotional proposition. None uses humour, although you could say there’s the occasional glimmer of gentle wit. And none, except, perhaps, at a push, Artemis has any kind of specialist or distinctive positioning.
We’re so used to funds advertising being as it is that it’s almost impossible to imagine just how different it could be. But think in terms of advertisers in other markets, and suddenly the options start opening up. Why couldn’t The Economist’s poster campaign be for a funds advertiser? Why couldn’t a funds advertiser (it would have to be one with a strong direct business) focus on price in the way that Ryanair and easyJet do in this country, and Vanguard does in the States? Why couldn’t it have been “the future’s bright, the future’s Fidelity”? Could a funds advertiser present its products with the style and celebrity of The Gap? Or with the single-mindedness of a Boddington’s (remember “The Cream of Manchester”)? Or with the style of Jaguar’s “Gorgeous” campaign?
I can imagine hundreds of examples, taking us far beyond the journey from A to B and way off to F, J, N, even S and maybe W (although even I struggle with what Z might be like).
Why do none of these campaigns exist? I think it’s because funds advertisers still haven’t really got their heads round the idea of consumer brand-building.
After all, it’s only a few years ago that this even started to seem like a good idea. Until then, the only recognised purpose of consumer advertising was to generate direct response from hobbyist investors – and, surprise surprise, the way you did that was to show them how successfully you would manage their money.
Old habits die hard. The objectives have changed, and so has the targeting, but the propositions still mainly hark back to an earlier era.
There is an extra reason for this. Most consumer-facing advertisers are looking for a double whammy – an approach that also makes sense to their most important target group, the IFAs. Their “how we go about investing” messages are designed at least partly with IFAs in mind.
But this too is a sign of the partial evolution that currently characterises the sector. There is no major market in which the consumer proposition is basically the same as the distributor proposition. Newsagents don’t sell the Mars Bar because it helps you “work, rest and play”; tyre fitters don’t sell Pirelli because “power is nothing without control”. They have their reasons to sell, and consumers have their reasons – usually mostly emotional – for buying. Coming back for one last time to poor old Katharine Hepburn, it would be like trying to find a way that she could appeal to the cinema owners as well as their audiences.
I don’t think Dorothy Parker would have approved. As she once said of a book which I suspect she didn’t enjoy much, it wasn’t something “to be tossed aside lightly: it should be thrown with great force.”