Nobody likes, or trusts, a hypocrite. Following Chase bank's recent tone-deaf tweet, there has been renewed interest in the frequent disconnect between the promises that brands make, and those they are willing to keep. Faris Yakob writes about the importance of being earnest.
When planning media it is wise to consider the modality of reception, which is to say the mood and mindset of the audience as they encounter your advertising. An audience on a Sunday evening is qualitatively different on a Monday morning even if quantitatively the same. People are less forgiving on the way to work, especially before their first cup of coffee.
Mondays can be tough, thus the meme #mondaymotivation on social media is used for uplifting thoughts to energize people. Chase, the largest bank in the USA [and in the world by market capitalization] pursued cultural relevance by hijacking the popular hashtag and mashing it up with another meme, one that attempts to explain something obvious through Socratic dialogue. The bank came up with this remarkable piece of brand content, which was posted on Twitter:
“You: why is my balance so low
Bank account: make coffee at home
Bank account: eat the food that’s already in the fridge
Bank account: you don’t need a cab, it’s only three blocks
You: I guess we’ll never know
Bank account: seriously?”
With broadcast advertising, it takes some time to gauge the consumer and cultural response but tweets travel at the speed of gossip, the only thing faster than light. The reaction was swift and unforgiving. Beyond the mood of the moment, another crucial factor in planning communications is considering how the message resonates with the brand. The hypocrisy of an institution that required a $25billion bailout from the government because of poor financial management giving lessons in parsimony was not lost on the audience and was summarily called out. Even Democratic Presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren jumped in with a satirical ‘comment retweet’.
Current bank advertising seems to believe we have very short memories and, to be fair, so do we. Volkswagen sales rebounded rapidly to record levels shortly after the emissions scandal. However, the impact of bank misdeeds continues to reverberate through culture, politics, and people’s bank accounts, keeping it salient and mentally available. Bank advertising is viewed with an even more skeptical eye than advertising in general. Due to the scale of recent historic misdeeds, bank advertising tends to have a resolute focus on the future but their pasts keep catching up with them as more fines are levied, providing counterpoints to their claims of having turned over new leaves.
NAB in Australia promised that it was “breaking up” with the other banks and their behavior. And, in a way, it did. At the conclusion of the Royal Commission enquiry into a host of malfeasances across the Australian banking sector Commissioner Kenneth Hayne, its author, said NAB "stood apart" from the three other major banks as the worst offender. Ultimately, both the CEO and Chairmen were forced to resign. The commissioner concluded saying “overall, my fear – that there may be a wide gap between the public face NAB seeks to show and what it does in practice – remains."
In the U.S., Wells Fargo launched a “commitment campaign” to inform people that they were “making change to make things right”, following a massive fraud scandal. Soon afterwards their CEO was called to testify before the House Financial Services Committee and asked if he could promise that the bank would no longer be defrauding its customers. He responded by emphasizing their commitment saying: “what I can promise you is that the changes we've implemented will prevent harm the best we can.” That commitment was questioned when Representative Katie Porter pointed out that in a separate legal case Wells Fargo’s lawyers argued these statements were “corporate puffery” and not something they should be held accountable for.
“It’s convenient for your lawyers to deflect blame in court and say your rebranding campaign can be ignored as hyperbolic marketing, but when you come to Congress, you want us to take you at your word. I think that’s the disconnect, that’s why the American public has trouble trusting Wells Fargo.”
This disconnect is troubling since the essence of advertising is a proposition to the customer, a promise. Falling trust levels in advertising are unlikely to be buoyed by political leaders suggesting campaigns should be ignored as hyperbole, [even as they utilize the dark targeting of more discrete communication channels with ever increasing budgets]. Advertising is the voice of a company and when it barges into a conversation with a poorly considered appropriation it sounds flat.
Chase deleted the tweet and offered a mealy-mouthed apology in its place — but it had already spawned innumerable articles, like this one. Every tweet, like any piece of brand communication, arrives into the world at the end of a very long line of seniority, held in place by strategy. As the Chief Brand Officer, who leads the in-house agency, remarked, the “Chase brand needs to be infused in everything, across product development, across creative ideation and across innovation” but if a brand can’t keep its promises than everything else is moot. The brand’s credibility is further compromised when industry leadership disclaims responsibility and the utterances seem written in ignorance of who they are supposed to represent.
Brands and their leaders should be held accountable for the promises they make. Tweets show a brand’s wit but actions its meaning - and the wit might need work.