How to get it wrong: the Co-operative bank’s TV ad.

When is a fightback actually a capitulation? When you forget to be human…

It’s not often that something staggers, amazes or riles me enough to write a piece about it specifically – I’m usually more conceptual. Having seen the latest TV ad by the Co-operative Bank over the weekend, four days later it’s still playing on my mind.

The entire Co-op group has been embattled in recent times, with the bank struggling particularly. After quickly searching online for ‘Co-op Bank TV ad’ I found an article on the Express website with this sub-heading:

The Co-operative Bank started its fightback yesterday launching an “edgy” new TV advert highlighting its ethical policies. (See article here)

I saw the ad twice and although I’m unable to find it online to look at in detail, I saw enough to know it staggeringly misses the mark. Rather than heralding a fightback it very easily could signal a death knell. We live in a world where increasingly engagement, stories and human values are essential. This advert offers none of those.

Here’s the overview:

The ad features a suited man with chiselled looks, who in an attempt to see genuine, comes across as unapproachable. Everything about this plays to the stereotype of a city banker. He talks in boring, mildly patronising tones about ‘People-Focussed Ethics Policy’ – something that to real people means nothing, while unbuttoning his shirt.

From there, some completely irrelevant shots of a bullet going through some purple and a figure with a skull over its head (I assume these are the ‘edgy’ bits) give way to an image of a fake tattoo saying ‘Ethics and Values,’ (or similar) before banker man breathes out as if to say he’s just had the tattoo.

Oh dear. Where to start with this?

It’s so off the mark, it’s painful. This is 2014, we’re heralding the evolutionary dawn of responsive, human organisations who act with empathy, self-awareness and conscience. This piece shows the Co-op bank to be detached, regressive and stuck in a pre-recessionary mindset.

Beyond being patronising, irrelevant, ill-conceived and stereotypical, it completely lacks the ability to engage real customers. I’m sure in the boardroom, this ‘edgy’ imagery of being so committed to our ethics that we’d have them tattooed on ourselves seemed a great idea. But while the execs were happy to lend their real signatures to newspaper ads committing to the bank’s ethics, you can guarantee none of the Co-op bank board has taken that commitment and had it tattooed on their body forever. A metaphor it may be, but it’s an un-engaging, pointless one at best.

Surely, to engage people and show your ethics, a more human, relevant approach would have been natural?

Get the execs on-screen. Look your people in the eye and say ‘Yes, we’ve had our problems, but we’re doing everything we can to make it right.’ Show customers that your ethics exist in more than just computer graphics and prove you’re really doing something about it. Show how you’re listening to communities, engaging customers, supporting, caring… tell your story, genuinely.

A quick visit to the Co-operative bank website finds a whole section outlining the organisation’s vision, values and heritage. While I’d argue that there’s considerable refinement needed here, that it exists is a start. Unfortunately, none of this is translated into the TV ad, which in turn likely means none of it pulses thrugh the veins of the organisation. It’s a shame.

I don’t bank with the Co-op. I have no vested interest in this, it just caught my eye.

Having written this, I’m hoping to get the Coop bank to read it and I hope that if you do, you’re up for a conversation. Getting you back on track is very simple and you’ve already got the foundations in place.

Here’s the rough guide to getting your message – and your operations- right:

Understand your values and live by them.

Yes, they’re on your website, but how do they drive your behaviours, how are they ingrained into the fabric of the business? Do you recruit to them, communicate through them, live and breathe them? Judging by the tone of the ad – no, you don’t.

Understand your heritage.

The Co-op, more than any other financial institution is about people. Embrace that, build it into your culture, communicate with your people internally and externally in a way that will engage them.

Understand how people view banking.

The excesses and perceived stupidity of financial institutions has been a bone of contention for much of the British public since 2008. Your advert is playing into that view. Suited, patronising men, doing reckless, idiotic things like getting a nonsensical tattoo in their lunch break, probably as a dare from the boys at the rugby club — it’s not a favourable stereotype. Don’t play into this, show yourselves as a diverse, human organisation that understands people, their individual and collective needs, appreciates them and can communicate with them.

Understand who your customers are.

See above. Your customers are not people who will be impressed by a man in a suit waffling dull ‘business speak’ around ethics and values. They are humans, living in Britain. They know the Co-op, show it knows them. Be who you are, embrace your story.

This is just scratching the surface, but I hope it gets the idea across. I have no idea how much money was spent on the advertising campaign, all I know is it was so wide of the mark it’s untrue. To rebuild, the Co-op bank must seize the opportunity to reconnect with is people and communities. This starts by building a strong culture around clear, ingrained values.

I’d love to have a conversation with the Co-op about this and engage with them over their message, partly because I know they can be better and partly because I know that under all this, the ethics and commitment to people is there, bubbling under – it just needs to be dragged into focus. I’d love to release that and see the Co-op bank unleash its potential.

Here’s the challenge to Niall Booker. Meet me, let’s talk over a coffee and share some ideas around your organisation. My view is that by focussing on people, you can thrive again – you just need to get it right. I’d love to help with that.

Niall, if this does reach you, you can get my contact details from my website www.iamtheworkproject.com. Get in touch, I’ll make the time.

By Andy Swann on October 9, 2014.
Exported from Medium on July 15, 2016.