March 23, 2004
(Cross posted at Mutual Marketing)
The Britannia Building Society has launched a new ad campaign. I saw it for the first time last night on the telly. It involves a scene in which a customer and a Britannia person discuss money, and simultaneously feed each other cake and some catering person comes along and adds cream to the cake. The "big idea" being that mutualism is all about sharing. The campaign is called, Lord Help Me, "Mmmutual".
To me, this is just deeply dull, image-based, marketing as usual. The idea of mutualism has been dumbed down and trivialised.
According to mad.co.uk (a marketing website, in case you wondered), Britannia's marketing director, Alan Long, says:
"This campaign really focuses on what's different about a mutual society and what makes Britannia, Britain's best mutual. It's an exiting time for us and we think it will help us to clearly stand out from the competition."This is, of course, one of those quotes that betrays the dead hand of scripting; real people don't actually talk like this. In my experience, marketing directors do get excited when they change images because for a few days they can feel as if they have made a difference; whether the "us" Mr Long refers to amounts to more than him and his department... well I doubt it. And I'm afraid a slightly nauseating ad of people stuffing cake is not going to make Britannia "stand out from the competition". What it does, I think, is totally blur them into the competition, the great mass of financial services advertisers peddling trivial friendly imagery that lacks passion and conviction.
Britannias says here
We hope you find the new communication style informative, practical and eye-catching. And dare we say, tasty?and once again, with "tasty", we're in the weary territory of copywriters' laboured puns. The idea of mutualism, sorry "mmmutualism" is rendered dominantly as "you'll get more for your money"...
Britannia is a mutual building society. So there are no shareholders to take a cut of our profits. Instead, every year, we share the profits with our members and invest in far tastier deals.There's that laboured pun again. (And the site is full of them... "feast your eyes on our successful partnerships", are you "after a yummy deal" ?, get "a tasty rate", "mmmm feast on this", "serving up great insurance deals")
If you dig into the website, you'll find that Britannia does have a member council that seems to play some sort of advisory role. It's made up of 24 people picked at random from branch visitors. All very well, but it's hardly the way to create active, engaged members, is it? Join the Britannia and have a 1 in x thousand chance of being on the member council... that's bound to encourage me to step forward with my ideas and enthusiasms.
Now I am quite willing to believe that Britannia is a friendly sort of organisation full of good people trying to do the right thing. But what is absent from their image-led, sickly-sweet advertising, is any kind of real passion. And by opting for safe blandness they offer me, as a customer, nothing I couldn't find elsewhere - in a mutual or indeed in a for-profit organisation. They say there's more money for members, but actually, it's always possible to get better rates by shopping around. Membership expressed predominantly in terms of a financial edge is not actually a distinctive or engaging idea; it amounts to little more than a Tesco Clubcard.
Elsewhere on the site, it's clear that Britannia has been active in developing partnerships with trade unions and football clubs. This suggests that they have been thinking more deeply about creating a sense of affiliation and community.
But to reduce the powerful idea of mutualism, a sense of people taking some joint responsibility, to a set of financial benefits and a truly wearisome and sugary adman's conceit, is very disappointing. Rendering mutualism in terms of a selfish consumer model of "what's in it for me" misses the point - a braver and far more enaging platform from which a more radically-minded mutual could really stand out. permalink
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