By Dinos Iacovou
WHEN YOU develop a passion for advertising it is like an addiction that is very difficult to overcome even if you have left the profession. For accountants that give up the profession the withdrawal process is much easier: they are not exposed to management accounts and cash flow forecasts every minute of their life. Advertising, in contrast, is everywhere and we are constantly exposed to it whether we like it or not.
Having developed the passion for advertising and everything related to it, from brand and reputation management to marketing and positioning, I just could not ignore the Bank of Cyprus’ (BoC) first, major advertising campaign, since the Eurogroup decision on the hair-cut of deposits. After all, the communication task currently faced by the bank was the most significant brand challenge to be faced by any organisation in Cyprus.
CEO John Hourican and his management team have a hell of a task on their plate, to get the BoC back into shape. If the non-performing loans nightmare, threatening the capital adequacy of the bank is a major headache, so is liquidity and deposit retention. The latter has to do with the ability of management to recapitalise the bank in a way that creates trust.
This trust recapitalisation process is about making all the right moves and communicating them in the right way. I would have therefore thought that the first, major communication exercise, the advertising campaign, would focus on the obvious thing. Communicate to the public, in a clear and highly focused way, all the right moves that the new BoC leadership has undertaken in the last couple of months. Instead, the bank’s top management chose a strategy which, in my opinion, is ill-conceived and to some extent badly executed.
To start with, the bank launched a deposit campaign which was an unfortunate blend of product and corporate advertising. The claim of the advert was that things had changed, trust might have been damaged but not lost, and the Bank of Cyprus was the bank of our country. For these reasons the testimonial statements, which appear as unfortunate and aesthetically poor attempts to put words in people’s mouths, urged people to forget everything and start depositing their money in the bank.
I cannot understand how this was supposed to rebuild trust and bring back the sceptical depositors. If on the other hand, it was meant to be an emotional appeal to our patriotism, it fell on deaf ears. At a time of acute public cynicism, when there is no trust at all in any kind of institution, private or public, and people are constantly denouncing the hot-air rhetoric which is being spouted on the country’s principles and values, this was a wrong approach.
The campaign for deposits was supported by another corporate commercial – a slices of life advert that is often used by companies selling life insurance. In this extremely well-executed commercial everything looks fine, as if nothing had happened in the last year, and comes to an emotional conclusion featuring the good old, ‘KOINON KYPRION’ coin which has long been the symbol of the BoC.
I presume this was a “we go back to basics” promise. I am not sure how many interpreted the image of the good old coin as a promise of and commitment to traditional, prudent banking and felt their trust in the bank fully restored. On the contrary one would argue that the coin, which used to be an essential element of the brand, commanding the blind and unquestionable trust of the public, is not good to show around, at least, not at this time.
So what were the strategy options of the bank? If we go back to the basics of trust, then we must agree that each and every word uttered by the bank, in any shape or form, must reflect reality. The bank cannot afford to make any kind of claim or promise that it is not absolutely true. This should have been the starting point in developing the right strategy.
As mentioned above, the management appears to be making all the right moves: getting rid of its Ukraine operation, in the context of a prudent “shrinking to strength” strategy, resolutely dealing with the issue of the NPLs, changing its lending practices, downsizing the network and the headcount.
So, in my opinion, the most responsible, substantiated, credible and convincing claim should have been that the new management is making all the right moves. A campaign on “all the right moves”, delivered with a tone of voice of wisdom, authority and sense of purpose might have not solved the trust problem of the bank, but it would have laid down the roadmap for getting there. It would have been a ‘replenishable’ campaign, to which new, right moves could be added along the way.
At some point in the future, when facts, numbers and data, showed that things were improving the claim could have taken a more optimistic and confident twist “Because we have made the right moves …..We are winning the trust of our customers….”
All this goes to show that, sometimes, solutions to business problems that are glaringly obvious – a matter of common sense – cannot be seen by those making the decisions. Voltaire’s assertion that “common sense is not so common,” says it all.
Dinos Iacovou is a Cyprus based former advertising executive