Marketing the capital markets II


Sorry I didn’t post yesterday.  UPS managed to move my new computer from Shanghai to Norwalk in 3 days.  Impressive! 

Then it took 3 days to fail to deliver it the last mile.  Not impressive!

When bad execution happens to good brands!  At some point, the letters UPS came spontaneously to stand for "U People Suck!"  Juvenile, I’m sure, but when brands disappoint us, we will rewrite them.

My distinguished colleague at Corante, Olivier Blanchard, very kindly smiled on my Friday post about marketing financial services, and asked me for more on the topic.  I am happy to oblige.

Friday, we noted that financial services and the capital markets have recently been obliged to climb down off their high horse.  Now they must at least pretend that the "consumer is king," that "voice of the consumer" counts, that it is time to be "consumer centric," [insert favorite marketing cliche here].  (Well, they may be cliches to us.  Not in the money biz, apparently.)

Friday, we noted there are muddles in the models.  Thus, when American Century Investments uses Lance Armstrong, it’s not clear they have it exactly right.  The metaphor (Lance is to athletic achievement what you the consumer can be to financial achievement) spins into implausibility.  No meaning is transferred.  A great wad of cash is wasted.  The consumer is mystified.

Today, an ad from citi:

It’s not I$NY

The heart of New York

is so much more than Wall Street

To help keep it in perspective,

we offer free financial guidance

to help you get control of your future.

Because after all,

people drive the economy.

The stock market just rides shot gun.

Something about this ad makes me nervous.  There is something odd about protesting the obvious.  Surely, none of us has ever doubted that "the heart of New York is so much more than Wall Street."

I can’t help wondering whether this is not a kind of semiotic leakage.  Without meaning to, the ad gives away the Wall Street conviction that it is the center of NYC. 

And then citi presumes to help me "keep it in perspective."  Um.  Actually, I believe this is my job, keeping things in perspective is, and, no, no help is actually called for. 

Then there’s the non sequitur: financial guidance will help me keep the fact that Wall Street is not the heart of Wall Street?  Really?  I guess I see what’s intended here.  That good advice will help me think less about money, and that will help me participate in the life of the city.  But, er, advertising is the art where perfect clarity meets perfect compression.  No guessing should be necessary. 

But then things get really strange.  "People drive the economy, the stock market just rides shotgun." 

So you’re saying my career is a covered wagon.  Really, I am so flattered.  Really, I am this close to tears.  And, what, you’re protecting me?  With a shot gun?  Get out of here!  I’m, like, Roy Rogers.  And you’re like…Jingles!  Jingles with a shotgun!  That gives me a nice warm feeling.  A large, stupid man with his finger on the trigger. 

But let’s take the metaphor seriously.  On Friday, I compared the capital markets to the black nobility of the Vatican: creatures of great power, prestige and standing.  But this metaphor repositions things rather dramatically, doesn’t it?  Now the capital markets are creatures of the open range.  No important distinctions of rank here.  And all of us are creatures of action, quick to respond to the lawlessness of the wild west.  (I rather like this part of the equation.  Contemporary markets are a little like the wild west, dangerous and unpredictable.)

This concept of the capital markets is a little better than the aristocratic one.  It collapses the status difference.  It supplants lordly disdain with something more engaged, more combative.  But I can’t help feeling there is a via media here, something in between the grand elites and rough hewn heroics. 

It’s a little like watching an evolutionary process.  An industry that never used to care about marketing is having to learn how to do it on the run, branding itself as it goes.  Each players in the industry is trying out several experments.  Some of them (Lance and Jingles) will work as object lessons, what not to do.  The industry "brand" will eventually prove emergent. 

I’m just guessing but I think the future of the marketing the capital markets lies almost exactly between Jingles and J.P. Morgan. 


Blanchard, Olivier.  2006.  Let the games begin.  Editorial at Corante Marketing. here


6 thoughts on “Marketing the capital markets II

  1. Auto

    If you want to see utterly retarded advertising, pick up any copy of Forbes.

    Just what is the point of spending all that money?

    The ads look as though they were dreamed up by the summer interns because the serious talent in the agency was busy working with sexier, more important clients.

    When I’m 95, drooling and in an adult diaper, my brain addled by senile dementia, I’m going into financial service advertising. I won’t be at any serious disadvantage to my competitors already i =n the business.

  2. andrew

    I think that the financial services industry (or would they call themselves a profession?) is so awash with money that they commission advertising campaigns with little serious thought as to how productive the ads should be or how they should be evaluated.

  3. steve

    It’s a tough thing to sell…pretty abstract, caught up in feelings of dread and envy for many people. Preparing for the future reminds people that some day they will be old, and nowadays we don’t like that. Hence all the TV ads which show super-vigorous boomers sailing, travelling, etc. because of their brilliant and tenacious investment strategies (and advisors).

    BTW, that’s not the Olivier Blanchard I know, a big-time macroeconomist…

  4. Eric

    Very funny post, and only a little tongue in cheek.

    Once upon a time, I was the SVP of Brand and Communications Research at juncture of NationsBank acquiring Bank of America (I was at NationsBank). I diligently researched and gave advice to the Brand Team about their advertising, marketing communications and strategies.

    Lo, and behold! Like certain political figures in current times, they only absorbed the advice that supported the decisions they had already made! This included massive expenditures on the Olympics, sports and “brand umbrella” campaigns. Really, without the benefit of understanding what they were receiving for those expenditures.

    Financial services advertising is often crafted by egomaniacs and approved by Finance people. Is it any wonder why little squeaky marketing voices are seldom heard above the din of their chest pounding?

  5. Susan

    Interesting as always Grant, but we need to dive more deeply into the root cause here to see the source of the semiotic leak that you so aptly describe. Individuals who rise to the top of financial institutions are rarely marketers in any sense of the word. They are deal makers and risk managers. Not unlike analysts, just a lot smarter.
    The only reason they care about us little people at all is to have two things, or perhaps three:
    1) a source of cheap money (retail deposits) to lend
    2) a source of people to distribute investments to (stocks, bonds, etc.), which is the glue that holds big-bucks investment banking together. (Plus big pension funds, but those are in the death spiral dontcha know)
    3) a source of stable and predictable earnings that can smooth out the stock price, and thereby the option value, from the volatility caused by investment banking

    There have been efforts to become more marketing savvy, going back to the 80’s when the FIs started recruiting P&G alumni. That didn’t totally work, because intangible services are not much like goop in bottles, but that’s another story. Those P+G alums were pioneers in the wilderness who probably didn’t get the respect they deserved.
    More recently, of course, we have seen some truly brilliant CMOs in financial services. But they will never be CEO. Never, never, never, never. Unless they are Charles Schwab, who had marketing in his DNA, as well as the entrepreneurial skills to build his own financial institution. Schwab, however, is the exception that proves the rule IMHO.
    And those deal-making, investment-banking, risk-managing, financial-engineering CEOs will always makes jokes about advertising being like “burning a pile of paper money — it makes a pretty fire, but then it’s gone”.

    To wrap on a happier note, this I expect this situation to provide blog-fodder for years to come, as well as the occasional billable hour.

  6. Grant

    Susan, am on the run, but wanted to thank you for this great post. Where could I find more about the Schwab story? Best, Grant

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