Definition of bravery

My old friends at Masius and their clients at BAA are all over London transport advertising sites with a long-copy poster all about Heathrow airport, which has the headline:  “How the great British getaway will get away this Easter.”  The copy then outlines all the things BAA are doing at Heathrow to make sure things go smoothly.

There are plenty of ways to write the idea in the headline without using that horribly definite word “will.”  (“How we’re helping the great British getaway to get away this Easter.”)  But no.  Agency and client have taken it squarely on the chin.  No weasels, no “help”, no “may”.

Very brave indeed, I’d call it.  And hopefully not “brave” in the way that Sir Humphrey tended to use the word when he really meant “suicidal.”

American financial advertising? Sorry, it’s all a bit of a blur

When I go to America, I’m always looking for some advertising ideas to copy. (Not verbatim, of course. It’s more a question of looking for different directions – different creative or strategic solutions to the problems, which are of course basically the same over there as they are back here.)

Even though it lasted for the best part of three weeks, my most recent trip wasn’t a huge success in this respect. Financial advertising-wise, I’ve come back more or less entirely unstimulated. This may be to some extent a consequence of failing middle-aged memory and unwise reluctance to make notes, but I’m pretty sure it’s also because there wasn’t much going on.

A few hazy points of mild interest (not very inspiring lead-in, a bit like what’s said to be the world’s most boring newspaper headline, Small Earthquake In Peru, Few Hurt):

– The default for all financial advertising in the US is to point the camera at your customers (very often a microphone too, so that they can deliver glowing testimonials). In the UK, banks and other mass-market organisations often do this, but those targeting the more sophisticated and/or upmarket hardly ever do. When did you last see a picture of a customer in an investment funds ad?

– You see as much advertising for financial advice or financial planning as for any other category, probably more than for most. In the UK there is virtually no advertising for financial advice: I wonder if this will change post-RDR?

– Press headlines are still a bit smarter and sharper. The only one I can remember was for a fund group’s online risk management tool, which said: “What’s that ticking sound coming from your portfolio?” It’s not brilliant, but it’s better than the self-congratulatory piffle that accounts for 99% of UK fund groups’ ads.

– US retail banks don’t seem to be hated as much as ours (or, if they are, they haven’t noticed). There’s no sign of the pathetic defensiveness of NatWest’s “Helpful Banking” campaign: American bank campaigns are built on the assumption that they’re doing a great job for their customers, and their customers love them for it.

– The US regulator doesn’t seem to be anything like as determined to fill US campaigns with bucketsful of alarming, discouraging and incomprehensible nonsense, thank God.

– But, let’s be honest, when all’s said and done, it’s still pretty dreary.

I’m sure that far more interesting and perceptive commentaries could be written, but sadly not by me.

From Chelsea to Pigsknuckle, in 46 years

In Chelsea, back in 1965, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were still under pressure to prove their abilities as songwriters.  Drawing, allegedly, on his relationship with his then-partner, the model Chrissie Shrimpton, Jagger came up with the lyrics to Under My Thumb. Richards was responsible for the riff, and Bill Wyman, in one of his few notable contributions to the Stones’ oeuvre,  provided the fuzz bass line.

In Pigsknuckle Arkansas last week (actually not really Pigsknuckle or Arkansas, it was St. Johnsbury, Vermont), I’m having breakfast in a fairly grim Comfort Inn, wondering why on earth it is that Americans like so little coffee in their coffee, what they have against fresh milk and why anyone would choose grape jelly over pretty much any substance that you can spread on toast. It’s raining, and there’s no-one much else there except a couple of photocoper salesmen and my delightful server, Prakash.

What’s the connection between these two far-distant events? Obvious really: Jagger and Richards’ track is playing in the restaurant where I’m having my breakfast.

We talk a lot in financial services about “unintended consequences,” but we’re not the only ones who experience them. I wouldn’t mind betting that in that flat off the Kings Road nearly half a century ago, Mick and Keef would never have begun to imagine the kinds of corners of the world where their song would finish up.

How to overcome any lingering doubts about RDR

If you’re still not entirely sure whether RDR is a good thing, here’s what you do: go to the Citywire or Money Marketing websites, look for any RDR-related story and scroll down to read the IFA comments below.

What you’ll find is a collection of such a hate-filled, decency-less, incomprehending and totally illiterate posts that you’ll decide on the spot that you’re bound to offer the strongest possible support for any initiative designed to impose any kind of standards on these ghastly people. And, by the way, until those standards show signs of significant improvement, you’ll also decide never, ever to let any of them within a million miles of your personal finances.

I suppose the cliche that comes to mind is about giving people enough rope. The Internet gives all of us infinite quantities of rope, and at absolutely no charge. Not since Jonestown have I seen a large group of people destroy themselves so utterly.

Do we really have as many bank branches as New Yorkers do?

Having been in New York recently, I was stunned by the number – and indeed size and opulence – of bank branches on display. Are there as many in London? I’d say not, but I can’t prove it.

There were branches of banks we know well in the UK (Barclays, HSBC); branches of banks you’d expect to see in New York (Citi, Chase); and branches of banks you didn’t even know were banks (Capital One, TD Waterhouse).

Virtually all, as far as I could see, were empty, although I may often have been passing at unhelpful times like midnight or Sunday morning. And – again as far as I could see – there wasn’t much on offer in terms of exciting new thinking about the role of the branch, or what customers might like to find or do when they got there. If London’s MetroBank has borrowed most of its innovations from New York’s now-deceased Commerce Bank, then I have no idea who Commerce Bank borrowed them from: I guess they had to make it all up themselves.

In the Uk at the moment, and for all I know in the US too, we’re going through a pendulum-swing period of enthusiasm for branch banking. In particular, there is much use of statistics to demonstrate that the majority of customers still visit their branches pretty often.

I haven’t really been buying this in the UK, and based on my recent experience I’m not really buying it in New York either. Most of the branch-visiting customers are doing silly boring things like drawing cash and paying in cheques, and if a combination of customers Ludditery and banks’ continuing failure to make alternatives easy enough is sustaining activities like these for longer than most of us expected, it’s still pretty clear that it’s late evening, not bright confident morning, for this sort of transacting.

As I said a little while ago, I see a few fragmented glimpses of a new, different kind of role for bank branches going forward, but nothing like enough to add up to a whole and compelling picture. And today I’m here to tell you that unless I missed something, there’s not much going on in the way of additional glimpses across the pond.