Wednesday, 14 December 2011

ANZ STEALS NAB THUNDER;postID=9138180522800368092

The big winner at this years advertising awards shows, in the world of banking at least, was the quirky campaign by Melbourne agency Clemenger BBDO for the National Australia Bank. For those who were perhaps slightly baffled by some of the ads (a guy being assaulted by tennis balls on the tennis court, another guy being locked as a prank in a sauna) the reason the advertising community liked the campaign so much was that the creatives at Clems had finally found a compelling insight with which to crack one of the most vexing advertising briefs of the last two decades: how to distinguish four virtually identical banks from each other. Their solution? The NAB had decided to “break up” with the other three.

Having opened (and closed) accounts with three of the big four over the last twelve months, I can confirm that the preconceptions that they are - save the odd genuinely supportive individual staff member - all exactly the same is true. Or to put it less kindly, they are all as bad as each other. This didn’t come as a surprise to me. Having made ads for several banks, I can confirm that their marketing briefs bear an uncanny similarity to each other.

In all the tens of millions of dollars worth of TV commercials, print ads, junk mail, online ads and radio campaigns that are thrust upon us each year, there is only one strategic message that the banks are attempting to convince you of; getting you to switch from your current bank to theirs. Indeed, the idea of "switching" is one that the Treasurer himself keeps banging on about, as if it were a dire threat, little understanding that switching banks- or churn, as it is called - is the sole goal of all bank advertising.

The reason? Virtually everybody in this country already has a bank account. The majority are neither particularly happy nor unhappy with their choice of bank. Banking is an annoying fact of life. Bank-bashing is fun, but it takes a lot of carrot and stick to actually provoke people to take the plunge and switch. When consumers contemplate doing so, all sorts of complex emotions come into play; anything from a reluctance to change for the sake of it to a subconscious tie to where your parents banked or to the mob who you opened your first account with. Which is why the NAB campaign, with its explicit recognition that switching is akin to breaking up, struck a chord. Cleverly, the campaign not only tapped into that emotional insight, but it allowed the NAB to point out it's perceived differences ("it's not you, it's me”) with the other three, all in the guise of writing a "Dear John" break-up note.

In doing so, the NAB campaign achieved what the Commonwealth have struggled to do with their ponderous and sometimes downright whacky "Determined to be different" campaign. (Unsurprisingly, the Commonwealth - who for some years have oddly had their advertising account with an American, not an Australian, ad agency - are putting their account up to pitch again.)

Differentiation is the only way banks can grow their customer base. Which is why we've seen, over the years, every slogan from "Which bank?" to "Happy banking" attempting to persuade us that, contrary to the evidence of our own eyes, there does exist out there a bank that is significantly different to the others, and therefore worth the agro of switching to.

But if the NAB have won the ad wars, it's the ANZ who have finished the year with an absolute strategic blindsider, pipping the rest of them at the post. The decision by ANZ chief Mike Smith and his right hand man Philip Chronican to set their own interest rates "every second Friday of the month" is one of those game changing ideas that is as breathtaking in it's audacity as it is inspirational. I can guarantee that in the marketing boardrooms of the three other banks their strategists and planners are literally kicking each other - and themselves - under the table. Those that still have a job, that is.

“We are not going to play this game of having an RBA rate move and then people asking 'who is going to move by what amount'," Mr Chronican announced, thereby proving that his bank – unlike all the others – really is determined to be different.

Whether or not the bank is bold enough to genuinely separate itself from the pack in terms of radically altering its interest rates – up or down - remains to be seen. But from a marketing point of view, it is the ideal vehicle with which to demonstrate that this bank practices what it preaches, and is prepared to go it alone. Even a tiny fraction of an interest rate cut will be enough to generate untold free publicity, word of mouth and consumer attention.

Like all great, simple marketing ideas, its genius lies in the fact that it is so bleeding obvious. Why wait for a bunch of fuddy duddy tea-leaf readers at the Reserve Bank to every month make their Delphic pronouncements while you've got your own highly paid entrail-readers who can grab those very same headlines for yourself? From now on, all eyes will be on the monthly ANZ pronouncement, giving them a unique platform of authority from which to spruik their wares.

Expect to see the other three banks forlornly scurrying to catch up.

Come the first "second Friday of the month", the gentle sound of clinking champagne glasses will emanate from ANZ HQ. When you’ve got an idea as good as this one, who needs to waste money on ad campaigns?

Sunday, 11 December 2011

"TRUTH WELL TOLD" (Counterpoint Nov 14)

AN INSPIRED SOLUTION (Spectator leader Dec 9)

Finally, Labor has come up with an inspired solution for all the vexed issues that plague our nation. Gay marriage. The wide-ranging advantages that will stem from this momentous decision should be plain for all to see.

Take climate change. By far the majority of gay couples remain childless – despite the occasional Elton John style arrangement - thereby relieving the planet of the burdensome carbon footprint of all those horrible toddlers, the ghastly SUV’s required to chauffeur them around, and the carbon-emitting farting fast food farm animals needed to feed them. The goddess Gaia will undoubtedly breathe a sigh of relief. Indeed, who’s to say she and her ‘friend’ Mother Nature don’t intend to take advantage themselves of the new platform?

Similarly, gay marriage should put an abrupt halt to the ever-growing influx of asylum-seekers. Forget all the kerfuffle about where to process them. The current flood of boat people will soon dwindle to a harmless trickle. After all, what self-respecting, Sharia-abiding, homo-hating middle eastern father of fifteen is going to pay all that money in search of a better life only to wind up in the land of the Wedded Sodomites?

Inner city development and renewal will also benefit from this far-sighted decision, as married gay couples from the outer suburbs flock to build their future homes in Surry Hills and St Kilda. Expect an investment boom worthy of the 90’s as Paddo terraces lead the real estate recovery.

And let’s not forget – as a global recession looms - the spur this decision will give to such innovative industries as same sex wedding planning, gay honeymoon tourism, double-bridal fashions, groom’s dressmaking and so on, in which Australia can yet again lead the world.

Clearly, those myopic critics who dismissed this decision as an elitist, inner-city irrelevance missed the wider benefits entirely.

LOONEY TUNES IN CANBERRA (Spectator leader Nov 25)

As the parliamentary season draws to a close, the political landscape of Canberra is beginning to resemble more and more a Looney Tunes cartoon.  Every time Wily E. Tony sets one of his fearsome traps, the nimble Julia zooms straight past, and the leader of the Opposition’s elaborate contraption inevitably blows up in his own face.

For months, the Acme Bring Down The Government weapon of mass destruction has laboriously been constructed bit by bit in the scrubby wastelands behind Capitol Hill, ready to annihilate the Gillard government in an awesome puff of smoke. Early preselections put to bed? Check. Carbon tax to be repealed? Check. All systems for an early election ready to go.

The trigger? In Tony’s clever plan, all that was needed was one teensy weeny defection from the motley crew of Roadrunner's cobbled-together coalition and her whole creaky edifice would come crashing down.

Just one defection.

Would it be Andrew Wilkie and his pokie reforms? Or would it be one of the  NSW independents; a couple of Looney Tunes characters in their own right, who would stumble across the floor and set off the tripwire? Maybe it would be one of the whacko Greens, or the bloke in WA whose name nobody can remember? Rubbing his hands together in gleeful anticipation, Tony assured his eager troops that his latest plan could not possibly fail.

Just one defection.

BOOM! When the big bang finally happened, nobody saw it coming. Least of all Tony. As the dust settles, the leader of the Opposition stands dumbfounded with blackened face and singed eyebrows, blinking in confused astonishment. Yet again, her red hair glinting in the sunlight, cunning Julia has outclassed him, whizzing straight past and disappearing in a blur around the shores of Lake Burley Griffin, ready to fight another day. Meep meep!


“Anybody been misbehaving?” Kevin Rudd gleefully asked a gaggle of noisy Queensland schoolchildren the other day. Standing next to him, looking awkward and sheepish, Peter Slipper wisely decided not to raise his hand.

Which is a shame, because when you’ve notched up travel and other expenses that add up to nearly $2 million in the last four years alone, including $280 cab rides, you’ve got plenty you could brag about to impress the other bad boys sniggering away at the back of the class.

The occasion was the recent visit by local member Slipper and “local boy made good” Rudd to inspire the graduating Year 12 students of Kawana Waters State College about their rosy prospects for the future. An excited throng of teenagers, parents and teachers assembled to hear the former and would-be-again Prime Minister in their $3.2 million BER-funded school hall on November 18. Precisely six days later, Slipper would prove he really knew how to misbehave and turn federal politics on its head by betraying his party and these same people – the Sunshine Coast electorate of Fisher - in order to rosy up his own prospects and grab himself a bigger slice of the parliamentary pie.

“Follow your dreams! Follow your dreams!” Rudd proclaimed, attempting Obama-esque repetition in order to outline his stirring vision of individual opportunity and self-belief. Reeling off a list of highly improbable jobs that these high-school kids could aspire to, including running the worlds most successful IT company (a la Steve Jobs) or heading up Formula 1 (a la Bernie Ecclestone), the pragmatic and insightful advice on offer to these young people entering the workforce at the very moment the world teeters on the brink of global recession was that “whatever you want to be, whatever you would like to do, don’t think it is too big or too difficult to follow your dreams.” Reminding us of his own relentless ambitions, the current Foreign Minister also managed to slip being “the Secretary General of the United Nations” into his roll-call of potential career opportunities for Kawana or, er, Eumundi kiddies.

Apart from a nod to his sister who’s a nurse, there was no mention by Rudd of “bringing better conditions to the people.” No mention of life not just being about “putting an extra sixpence into somebody’s pocket.” No mention of “if a depression comes there will be work.” 

The light on the hill, it turns out, is nowadays nothing more than the naked flame of personal ambition. Tailored expressly for the limited attention span of the me-generation, “Follow your dreams!” is Rudd’s and Labor's glowing new mantra.

Sitting, sweaty-palmed in the audience, Peter Slipper hung on his parliamentary colleague’s every word. The theme of individual success is one that has been much on his mind of recent. In September, at another school visit, he informed the kids of Conondale that: “We had someone who went to school here on the Sunshine Coast who became Prime Minister – what a wonderful country this is!” To the giggles and stifled yawns of a restless group of ten year olds he went on to promise them, in words that bear an eerie resemblance to Rudd’s own, that: “You can achieve whatever you want to achieve and what you achieve depends on one person – you.”

Himself a chronic underachiever in all but his expense accounts – in the last six months Slipper has slipped through an average of $1073 a day – Pete has now decided that he, too, deserves the chance to “follow his dream.” Putting nothing but blatant self-interest in front of the interests of his constituents and his party, he has grabbed the job he has long coveted yet has done nothing of obvious merit to deserve. With his promotion to Speaker comes a salary of $245,000 and a guaranteed two more years of gorging himself on the smorgasbord of publicly-funded perks and travel that he has so clearly developed a taste for.

“I support less taxes and less government, along with the principle that there should be reward for initiative, enterprise and hard work,” said the young Peter Slipper MP in his maiden speech in 1985. Worthwhile sentiments, but ones that he has failed to live up to in spectacular fashion.

The list of Slipper’s failings, alleged rorts, fiddles, and inappropriate and boorish behaviour reads like a Jeffrey Archer novel. Apart from the staggering dollar figures ascribed to airfares, taxis and commonwealth cars, office supplies, voguish magazines and so on, which have led to successive police investigations and much disquiet within Queensland LNP circles, there are the “colourful” episodes that he himself was quick to refer to in his speech accepting the Speaker’s job. Thumped in bars, kicked off planes, crashed out at all the wrong times and in all the wrong places, with comical interludes including an unfortunate episode in a disabled toilet, it is unnecessary to dredge up any specific “smears” to make the point. Slipper’s entire career is one long smear.

His most memorable recent speech (and that is being kind) was a re-hash of climate change scepticism clich├ęs spun together with no fresh insights and little passion. Happy to oppose the carbon tax in word, his actions are nothing short of hypocritical. In one grotesquely selfish move, Peter Slipper has guaranteed the implementation of the carbon tax upon his hapless constituents against their express wishes at the ballot box. The very same tax he stood up and opposed in their name.

“The Labor Party will come to rue this day,” said Christopher Pyne. “They will come to rue the precedent that they have created.”

That the Labor Party of Rudd, Gillard and Swan ruthlessly rewards hypocrisy, disloyalty and greed in order to further its own ambitions of power will be the real lesson that the kids of Kawana take with them as they head out into the world.