CBA: launches idiosyncratic ads

1st February 2008
By Petter Ingemarsson

Australia's Commonwealth Bank has launched a new unconventional advertising campaign.

Following its recent advertising agency change, Commonwealth Bank has launched a new and unconventional advertising campaign, which eschews traditionally dry bank marketing. Instead, it presents a series of humorous skits. This new approach may prove effective, but risks alienating traditional customers. The timing of the ads is also questionable.

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Major Australian bank Commonwealth Bank (CBA) shocked the advertising community late in 2007 when it fired advertising agency STW Communications, instead opting for US-based firm Goodby Silverstein & Partners. The revamped CBA marketing campaign kicked off with a humorous advertisement depicting the CBA marketing department hard at work trying to figure out a marketing campaign. The new advertisements have left many in the financial services and marketing fields scratching their heads.

The tone of the advertisement, which has been likened to sitcoms such as The Office, departs radically from the prevailing bank marketing paradigm. The hipper, humorous, edgier approach of the campaign is more akin to beer commercials than to traditional financial services commercials. On the one hand, this different approach is bold and innovative, and may well strike a chord with media-savvy Australian bank customers. On the other hand, the advertisements run the risk of passing over the head of consumers, as many will not understand the in-jokes.

Rivals in the marketing industry were quick to discount the advertisement. Paul Fishlock, creative executive director of ad agency The Campaign Palace, intimated that he felt the campaign was self-centered and unremarkable. "I seriously wonder how many people want a wacky bank," Mr Fishlock was quoted as saying. "Different for sure, but there are different kinds of different."

The problem with the CBA campaign is not so much the content but rather the timing. At a time when global credit concerns have led to a consumer flight towards perceived safe investments and institutions, being branded as hip and edgy may be a detriment. The advertising campaign may have been better served by accentuating the safe, trusted nature of the CBA brand.
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