Yes, folks, once again I’m down in the tube spotting rotten ads and pondering about them. This time it’s a Hitachi Personal Finance ad (no, me neither, I thought they did drills and music centres) offering personal loans at 3.8%.
The ad, which exists in a variety of shapes and sizes, shows a large picture of a brightly-coloured hot air balloon, and a headline – you’re probably ahead of me – that says: No hot air. Just low rates. There’s then a big graphic showing the 3.8% figure, and there’s some copy and a logo.
All this is obviously a response, though not a very good one, to the age-old financial services advertising problem of how-do-we-get-a-picture-in. We want a picture because, well, because we do. Our first thought is to show a picture of something that someone is buying with a loan, most obviously a car or possibly a kitchen. But these won’t do because they’re too specific – these are multi-purpose personal loans, not car loans or home improvement loans. Our second thought is to show some happy loan-obtaining people, but again they’re too specific – what age? what gender? what ethnicity? – and also of course very generic.
So then you think about the brand. Does Hitachi Personal Finance lay claim to any attributes that take you anywhere? Well, yes, kind of: it’s all about ease and simplicity. How can we visualise ease and simplicity, and by the way for budget reasons it’ll have to be with a royalty-free stock shot? Via a pun, of course. If the headline says “No hot air” – which is actually to do with the absence of pomposity or self-importance, but close enough – we can visualise a quite different kind of hot air, which is the sort you find in balloons. Bingo. An on-brand idea which – with the help of a pun – gives us a large, colourful visual which is available royalty-free.
And as an added bonus, a hot air balloon gives us access to a fairly rich seam of further punning language. No big surprise that the first sentence of the copy says something about “getting your plans off the ground.”
A very great deal of the time, this is a pretty genuine summary of how the so-called creative process works. It hinges on the availability of a suitable pun, to bolt together something we more or less want to say with something we more or less want to show.
My question, of course, is whether this rather esoteric game serves any remotely useful purpose. Would the ad be better, or worse, if it just said “Personal loans from just 3.8%“? Or, if the advertiser was determined to include the brand message, “Simple, straightforward personal loans from just 3.8%”?
As a Libran, I can perfectly well argue this either way. One thing’s for sure: it isn’t a good ad. It’s cliched, mechanical, utterly formulaic – the kind of ad which, in the very near future, will be produced by a piece of software very probably made by Hitachi, without any human intervention at all. But, bad as it is, is it not also true that a) it communicates reasonably clearly, and b) on the whole it’s nicer to see stock shots of hot air balloons in the underground rather than just words and numbers?
I’m not sure. I’m pretty sure the creative team who’ve produced this have been completely wasting their time. But maybe they’ve added a tiny amount of value with their silly pun and their boring balloon pic.