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Getting to grips with harsh reality

Paul Nagy

Regional Chief Creative Officer

VMLY&R

Paul.Nagy@vmlyr.com

Uncomfortable truth

Getting to grips with harsh reality

 

The truth... it’s a tricky little sprite to get a hold of these days, isn’t it?

Spectacularly elusive in politics, frustratingly fickle in modern law, and surprisingly hard to define, even in the exacting, fact-based world of science (I mean, is coffee bad for us or not?).

Where truth used to be like an anchor we could rely on, now it’s more like a windsock – unable to hold its position in a blustery online world where a flood of contradictory opinions dressed up as “facts” are just an anonymous comment away.

We are living in an age of “Making a Murderer” anxiety, where the truth changes with every episode. Where the Washington Post’s fact checker has just concluded the President of the United States has made more than 10,000 false or misleading statements since taking office (averaging more than 12 a day), and a great many people believe he can still win the next election.

Once you wrap your head around that, you might be forgiven for thinking the truth might have had its day. That, like smoking cigarettes or hailing taxis, it’s become a bit irrelevant in our modern world.

But I believe the opposite is actually true.

People are starving for the truth – desperate for it – and they will reward brands that have the courage and conviction to find theirs and live it.

When Bankwest employed us to reinvent their brand in 2018, we were immediately confronted with an uncomfortable truth: Australians kinda hate banks. In fact, hating banks is basically a national sport.

And yet, even in the face of a Royal Commission highlighting unsavoury conduct from banks across the country, they were firmly rooted in a hyper-real, “happy plastic” depiction of Australian culture, portraying themselves as playing huge and important roles in people’s lives. Most ads showed banks that really cared about putting your kids through uni, that cared deeply about you reaching your goals... like they were a part of your family.

But ask any Australian about this and they’d roll their eyes so hard they’d see their own spinal cord.

I must admit to being nervous about sharing this “uncomfortable truth” with the client in the early days, but not only did they listen, they decided to try and deliver the kind of banking brand and experience that Australians really wanted.

But it wasn’t easy.

Bankwest employs a lot of wonderful, hard-working people, and the last thing they wanted to do was marginalise their value. They are also part of a category containing some of the biggest and most powerful brands in the country (not to mention being owned by one of the Big Four), so poking fun at bank advertising was always going to be challenging.

But they never shied away from the truth, and seemed to inherently understand that to do it right was going to be a bit uncomfortable.

And so “Bank Less” was born. A phrase designed to capture a bank that truly knows its place in the world. A bank that knows people don’t want to be thinking about banks at all. A “less banky” bank that’s genuinely trying to play a bigger part in their customers’ lives – by playing a smaller one.

And importantly, it wasn’t just a story they agreed to tell through marketing, but a new brand truth they wanted to live every day. So, while their big “Sea of Sameness” brand film parodying bank advertising played a huge (and highly successful) role in making people aware of the change, they certainly didn’t stop there.

Bank Less now manifests itself in the form of little things in branches like Jargon Jars (similar to a swear jar, but a punishment for using bank jargon); unbranded, wearable tech that allows you to buy something without even thinking about your wallet, let alone your bank; all the way through to employing illustration and linguistic experts to translate and reduce complicated banking-speak, making it much easier to understand. So, they’re not just saying something true – they’re living it.

Has it worked?

I can’t go into specifics, but in a category where standing for something differentiated is a challenge in itself (and almost impossible to buy), brand love, awareness and clarity have all enjoyed significant increases. More importantly, the entire business is behind the platform and investing in it, long term.

So, it’s working hard.

And that’s because the client earned it. It’s never been more important to give something in order to get people’s attention. Our audiences are armed with tools allowing them to avoid anything they don’t want to engage with. If you don’t offer something they want, you don’t exist.

Truth has become so uncommon, that, like anything rare, its value has skyrocketed.

If you can make the considerable effort it takes to dig deep and find a real truth at the heart of your product or brand – and have the courage to really live it every day – then you will genuinely have something of value with which to barter for your customer’s attention.