The bank we love to hate is looking for a new advertising agency. While still the second largest bank in America – JP Morgan recently snuck past BofA in assets, $2.289 trillion to $2.219 trillion – Bank of America’s stock – both on Wall Street and on Main Street has plummeted. It’s share price toppled by more than half in 2011 and its public opinion fell even more sharply.
In fact it’s hard to find much positive sentiment anywhere. The Occupy Wall Street movement targeted the financial giant at every opportunity. A congressman from the bank’s home state of North Carolina went after them for greed and abuse. Consumers pummeled them with complaints after the bank announced an ill-advised $5.00 fee for debit card use, a decision from which they quickly backed down. And just this past Friday, the Rainforest Action Network (RAN) turned Bank of America’s San Francisco ATMs into “truth machines,” covering them with non-adhesive stickers that offered customers a slightly different option menu. ATM visitors could invest in coal-fired power plants, foreclose on American homes, bankroll climate change, or fund executive bonuses. Pretty funny and clever stuff if you ask me.
Anyway, call me too modern in my thinking, but I’m not sure an ad campaign will solve much of this. No doubt we’ll see executions that pat the bank on its back for funding inner city growth, helping send kids to college, providing entrepreneurs with money to launch new businesses and practicing corporate philanthropy with efforts that include free admission to hundreds of museums.
Such messages might make management and employees feel better, but they’ll ring rather hollow to consumers. Ads will feel contrived, controlled and anything but transparent. Accomplishing the latter is likely to be particularly difficult, given the bank sought to achieve more openness with its last big campaign effort. And look where they are now.
Bank of America is trying to do away with this closed image of banking with its new, $40 million ad campaign that attempts to portray the Bank as more open and transparent. From MyBankTracker, 2009
A recent glance at Bank of America’s Twitter news feed shows an abundance of self-promotional updates, but not a single acknowledgement of recent image problems. I figured for sure there would have at least been a “touché,” tweet to RAN. Even a beleaguered bank needs a sense of humor once in a while.
The suits in Charlotte need more than a new ad agency and a $300 million ad campaign. They need a new mindset for how to solve their marketing and image problems. The “us and them” strategies that yield fee hikes rather than collaborative programs have to go. The bank should “design” its way toward good will and trust, starting with a new way to engage and a better connection with its detractors. I might even do something really radical and invite someone from RAN or Occupy to join the board. Or at least an advisory committee.
It will probably take years and multiple behavioral changes for BoA to prove themselves. You only have to read Bill Bernbach to know that peppering us with paid media to tell us how great they are, or even to celebrate the accomplishments and spirit of their customers, won’t change public opinion.
What do you think? Thoughts on what the banking giant should do? Should I make this an assignment for my class at Boston University? Is it possible to strategically and creatively turn Bank of America into good guys?