Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

Fulfilling dreams less extraordinary

Published in Sep-Oct 2016

Banks have moved beyond product driven advertising, but are they really connecting with their customer base?
Illustration by Creative Unit.
Illustration by Creative Unit.

For some creative types, there are the ‘dream’ clients... and there are the ‘in-your-dreams’ clients. Some would argue against such stereotyping, but deep down every creative person can identify their own particular selection for either label.

For many accomplished and successful ‘creative’ people, creativity is simply a problem solving tool; the more challenging the brief, the more satisfying the exercise. Their criteria for a ‘dream’ client would obviously be different from people who would not touch a straight-jacketed brief with a 10-foot pole and equate creative freedom with a ‘dream’ client.

Banking and financial services is one such stress-inducing category, where the sheer amount of creative red tape can scare off the bravest of the brave. With stringent State Bank regulations, zero product differentiation and myopically product-focused marketing teams, it was no wonder that bank advertising used to be banal at best – with the occasional whizz-bang of glitzy production values and special effects thrown in to create a measure of memorability. And it is not a coincidence that all this refers to the stuff we saw on TV.

Over recent years, however, bank advertising has evolved from being product focused and feature driven to one that has started to revolve around human needs in a more emotive manner. Bank Al Habib’s PAS- award winning campaigns come to mind, where banking products and human needs are sensitively woven together. Then there was Soneri Bank’s campaign for their Ikhtiyar Account, which added a human touch to a complicated product, but presented in a highly stylised treatment, which some would say overshadowed the human aspect.

Finding this balance between a true-to-life human narrative and parroting off product features and services is not easy, and although we are starting to see a lot of this as a trend in local advertising (with a number of memorable advertising campaigns on the screens), we still have a long way to go before the superficiality of the narrative gives way to a meaningful connection to the brand around which the narrative is woven.

Understanding the human condition, the real-world issues that the product is trying to resolve is not an easy task under any circumstances, but with no intrinsic differentiation between the products and services offered by different banks, exploiting this human angle becomes even more critical in creating resonance and giving a distinct flavour to the brand’s communication. Easypaisa, while strictly not a bank, does a far better job than the other money transfer products on TV.

Finding the balance between a true-to-life human narrative and parroting off product features and services is not easy.

Of course, this is the Pakistani market we are talking about and the temptation to go all grandiose, bombastic, and patriotic is always just around the corner; HBL’s Samina Baig epic (and recently Rosheen Khan) is a prime example. But while Samina Baig and Rosheen Khan achieved their dreams, and HBL won the PAS Brand of the Year Award, what kind of connection did that really create with the audience other than the requisite oohs and aahs at their story and the production values of the TVC? Did it really address any of their banking needs? One may argue that a thematic is not meant to do any such thing (and that is the domain of the tactical, product campaign). But one doesn’t see any aspect of that narrative being continued in a way that engages the audience beyond passive viewership, either on TV or digital.

The thematic content on the HBL Facebook page is linked to a forthcoming product called HBL Nisa. This would appear to be a natural progression of the ‘women empowerment’ narrative. However, the HBL Nisa Facebook page simply shows a forthcoming credit/debit card product for women only (who have to be HBL account holders incidentally!) with a particular set of discount offers and no different from any other card. How empowering is that? State Bank regulations, you say? One could at least build the story beyond two high achievers realising their (nearly impossible) dreams and include ordinary people whose everyday dreams may be far more realistic, but just as difficult to achieve.

Bank Alfalah recently underwent a massive rebranding exercise. The campaign, based on the theme of ‘Rising Talent’, did not on the surface seem very different from showing people like Samina Baig achieving their dreams. However, thanks to its multiplatform integration into film, and later the creation of Pakistan’s first sports car, the campaign(s) created a lot of buzz in the market. The bank’s digital assets also had a lot of content related to the initiative which people were actively consuming and sharing. Yet, the question is that beyond a one-way communication of a theme highlighting pre-selected players, how is the bank REALLY trying to promote Rising Talent? Or is it going to end up being yet another cosmetic initiative passively sponsoring events and paying lip service to supporting burgeoning talent in Pakistan?

When a brand proclaims a vision for itself, especially in front of people, it may get the audience to cheer for the players in the narrative. However, to get people to cheer for the brand, they have to become enablers of that vision also. Sadly, most of our institutions shy away from becoming true enablers in the real world.

Yusef Tuqan, VP, Marketing & Analytics, Careem made a very informative presentation at the recent Dig-it 2016 Conference about how new media technology is changing consumer behaviour and how brands are coming to terms with this changing landscape. In his view, a clearer understanding of how people really use technology and the digital medium, their content consumption, or even a deeper look at their motivators and factors driving behaviour change, can result in initiatives that truly involve and engage people with the brand, helping them to embrace its vision and develop stronger connections with it.

And to be able to do that, for a category that is notoriously difficult to create memorable work for, would truly make it a dream client for me.

Adnan Syed is Chief Innovation Officer, Adcom Leo Burnett.