Westpac goes a little bit bananas

A banana smoothie metaphor does Westpac no favours

Days after Westpac CEO, Gail Kelly, said that the none of the bank’s customers would lose their home as a result of the bank’s significant rate rise, the company’s customers received a video on Monday, associating bananas with borrowed cash, and the cost of smoothies with credit, which is about as wacky as a bank can get.

It’s probably not as strange as the bizaare Celebrex Ad – “it won’t kill you… we hope” – but it comes pretty close.

Who advised them on this? I’m guessing the same highly paid genius who advised Kraft to call their beer slops/cheese hybrid “iSnack 2.0”.

Unfortunately, the storybook approach won’t convince anyone that Westpac are a good corporate citizen, and were forced by some credit storm to whack their home loan customers with an additional 20 basis points (to 0.45 per cent) on top of the official cash rate rise of the Reserve Bank of 0.25 per cent. To most people, the additional rate rise just looks a bit greedy, which is reinforced by some overly simplistic and somewhat patronising post-hoc rationalisation in this ill-advised video.

It’s different, but not very smart promotion, and continues Westpac’s strange promotional campaigns (such as the “We’re Factor 50” advertisements)  – which probably do more to confuse consumers about their brand idea than clarify them.

From a marketing and branding perspective, it doesn’t do Westpac any favours, either. Two of the other Big Four, the ANZ and Commonwealth Bank, also increased their interest rates above the Reserve Bank increase (0.35 and 0.37 respectively), as well as the Westpac owned, St George Bank (0.39). But now that all the attention is on Westpac, the ANZ and CBA can sit back and watch the furore being directed at their competitor – simply because of an ill-advised banana smoothie metaphor.

Westpac Chairman, B1, with new CEO, B2

At least the video admits that the bank is a business, which highlights one of the misunderstandings that consumers unconsciously make about banks; that banks are community services. But most consumers will perceive that it is a long stretch to make a connection between bananas and international finance.

When consumers are being told, on one hand that banks continue to post substantial profits (Westpac posted a cash profit of $4.6 billion to September 2009), while on the other hand that the banks are struggling to get cash and therefore need to charge consumers more for their loans, the storybook approach does little more than reinforce beliefs that banks are condescending and don’t respect the intelligence of their customers – particularly the bit where the voiceover in the video says, “We all understand this story right? A plus B equals C. But the same formula seems so much harder to understand when it comes to talking about money, about lending, about mortgages and about banking. In some ways a bank is really just like the company that sells banana smoothies. A bank is a business that buys and then sells something, only in the bank’s case that something is money.”

The promotion is akin to a parent telling their teenage children to sit down, and listen to the very important fable about life, bananas, smoothies, and interest rates… and aren’t those little talks effective? And as my son says, “A plus B makes more sense than bananas and banks”.

I can see what Westpac were attempting to do – using the storybook approach might be useful if people were receptive to the message, and empathetic to the bank’s plight. But the reality is that banks are expected to be serious businesses, and while the cost of cash might be easily reduced to a three minute animation – about bananas and smoothies – most consumers probably expect something more sensible from an industry that deals with their hard-earned cash.

I guess it goes to show that even big corporations do dumb things from time to time – I’m looking at you Kraft, Coke, et al.


Interview with Brendan Trembath on ABC AM, 9 December 2009 (yes, I know what you are thinking… what was Paul doing up so early?)

This entry was posted in Advertising, Branding, Consumer Behavior, Social Psychology, Tribal and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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