When you’re an agency creative team working on a financial advertising brief, very often your biggest problem is that there’s nothing much to show in the picture. When you’re advertising cars, chocolate bars or lager, you can always show the product (and indeed you usually do). But how do you show an investment, or a bank account, or an insurance policy?
Actually, with a bit of fairly basic conceptual thinking, the problem will very often go away. You can’t show an insurance policy, but you can show someone having an accident, or not having an accident, or feeling happy because they haven’t lost their no-claims bonus, or whatever.
But still, an awful lot of creative teams working on financial accounts struggle massively with the what-do-we-show problem. And while some solve it very successfully – for example, with meerkats – many don’t. At worst, the hunt for an image ends nowhere good – with a contrived and irrelevant picture linked to some spurious and distracting words in the headline, all of which serves only to obscure the message (like my wombats, gorse-bushes and cheese) rather than in any way helping to clarify or dramatise it.
The danger is particularly acute when the message of the ad is in any case at, or even beyond, the limit of what ordinary people can comprehend. A good example is the current poster down in the Tube for Old Mutual Global Investors, which features a picture of a combine harvester made out of a sort of Lego and a headline which says: “Isn’t it time you found a better way to harvest income?”
Of course to a small number of us who work in financial services, and particularly in financial services marketing, this ad makes perfect sense. First, there’s a reason why it features a picture of an object made out of a sort of Lego: this is the visual territory of OMGI’s current campaign, already seen extensively in the trade press. On close examination the Lego-like material appears in two colours, dark green and light green, and this symbolises the way that Skandia’s and Old Mutual’s investment businesses came together to form OMGI.
Then what about the message? Well, obviously, what the headline is really trying to say is something like: “With interest rates on deposit savings accounts still so low, isn’t it time you took a look at what you could be getting from our investment solutions, such as bond funds and dividend funds?”
This is a bit long, but more importantly there’s nothing in it which gives the team anything much to visualise. So they fall back on the standard ad agency response in this situation, which is to find a word we can use in the headline which a) says more or less what we want to say, and) gives us a picture.
The word this creative team have chosen is “harvest.” They don’t talk about what you can “get” from our funds – they use a word which gives them a picture. “Harvest” could have given you a bunch of images – not just combine harvester, but also scythe, hand picking apple from tree, field full of ripe corn, worried-looking dormouse amid ripe corn stalks, etc etc. But it’s obvious what’s wrong with all those: you can’t build hands or dormice out of a lego-like building material. But you can build a combine harvester.
So there’s your ad – headline, and, thank goodness, visual. And as a final creative touch, the team have dressed in a few rectangular hay bales in the wake of the combine harvester, also of course made from our trademark lego-like material.
It ticks all the boxes – I’m sure it was an easy sell to the client. But to most of the people passing the poster at Euston underground station at 8.30 this morning, it’s still a terrible poster. It’s all fine, as a rather nice account man said about one of my ideas many years ago, apart from the headline and the visual.
Taking the visual first, this just doesn’t make any sense. Why is it made out a lego-like material? The passers-by at Euston know nothing about the background, or the merger, or the campaign property: they just see a combine harvester and some hay bales made out of something like Lego. Is it for children?
But then why is it a combine harvester? Does it have something to do with farming? Is it targeting farmers? Or, if it’s meant metaphorically (which, the passers-by at Euston know that advertising visuals often are), does it mean that the story we’re telling is one in which we grow our crop, then chop it all down to harvest it, burn off the stubble and start again? The answer to all these questions is “No.” The visual has done a pretty good job of throwing most people off the scent.
But just in case there’s anyone still making sense of this, along comes the headline to finish the job. The word “harvest” is distracting and irrelevant. But the real killer is the word “income.” To ordinary people who don’t work in financial services, income is what you earn from your job. My “income” is my salary, pay cheque or wage. Unless you give me a great deal of help, it’s not going to occur to me that the word means anything else. “Interest” is what I get from my savings.
So against that background, what does the headline men? “Isn’t it time you found a better way to harvest income?” If a passer-by at Euston underground station gave a toss, he or she could think about this for quite a while. Does it mean literally that people could earn more money if they took jobs as farmers? Is it something to do with how you get paid? Should you be asking for your salary to be paid to you by some different method, maybe to do with the Internet? Could it be suggesting that you should make money by buying and renting out combine harvesters?
In fact, of course, the huge majority of passers-by at Euston underground station don’t give a toss, which is why they won’t bother to think about all this for even a second or two and will just instantaneously decide that this is one of those financial ads that isn’t intended for them and which they can’t make any sense of.
And of course in that, they may be right. OMGI may actually have no interest in communicating with 95% or so of the passers-by, spending their money only to reach that 5% of sophisticated private investors, intermediaries and other financial professionals who do actually understand this stuff.
But if that is the case, I do wish they would try to reach these people in a more targeted and less mainstream media environment. Appearing where it does, the main thing this poster does is to contribute a little bit more to the existing and dominant consumer perception that the financial services industry has no interest in, and absolutely no understanding of, a single one of them