Now, where’s the thought?

Johnnie Moore

Johnnie Moore

I’m Johnnie Moore, and I help people work better together

Barclays’ latest TV ad sets a new low standard for the bank.

Davidreviews has a stream of it here. It’s a fantasy in which a young executive creates a debit card that can be made to vanish at a touch. This he explains to a colleague makes it theftproof. So excited are they at this genius that they engage in a dance making the invisible card fall on the floor so they don’t know where it is. (I think we’re supposed to find this funny.)

At which point, the voiceover intones,

“At Barclays, we’re always looking for new ways to protect you from fraud.”

Followed by the tagline

“Barclays. Now there’s a thought.”

Err… sorry… where is the thought in this?

This is an ad which really has nothing to say at all. Is there any concrete example of a real innovation they’re offering us? No. Just the waffly claim that they’re always looking for new ways to protect us (except when they’re busy squandering millions on this exercise in vanity). With the suggestion that they’re a bit silly and overenthusiastic (which I suppose might be true of their marketing department). Back in the day, Barclays actually was an innovative organisation… it pioneered credit cards in the UK, and was ahead of the game in inventing cash machines. Now they’re reduced to this shallow posing.

It’s pathetic. In recent years, the best Barclays has managed is to run ads with Anthony Hopkins about how BIG they were. Then ones with Samuel L Jackson telling some fairy tale to let us know they were “fluent in finance”. (That line lasted a year or two and now, it seems, has been quietly buried.) Now they’ve hired Bernard Hill (who played Theoden in LOTR) to try to add gravitas to the voiceover for this bit of flim-flam. This is an organisation with a serious case of Brand Narcissism. Every couple of years, a new pose, each more trivial than the last.

This is the sort of fatuous rubbish that gets me grumbling out loud at my television. For me, it’s the mark of an organisation that’s failing to engage in a real conversation with its customers. Instead, its high powered executives are preening themselves in the mirror and wondering if they look good in their latest promotional costume.

This sort of tripe can only arise from a marketing department where there’s a complete failure of internal conversation. Having worked in the business, I can easily imagine the series of meetings in which agency and client pretend to themselves that this is a great idea. That it’s “research-based” (which translates as, we wasted a ton of money on research, so let’s spend millions on a TV ad to support the pretence that we discovered something.) And no-one had the nerve to point out the elephant under the table: the ad is childish nonsense.

And if a massive bank can’t look at the state of the world and the real issues facing its customers and find something intelligent to say, then its got serious problems. This is the attention economy after all.

I was a bit surprised to find this was the work of Bartle Bogle Hegarty, the agency that just won the British Airways account. BBH’s site says “great creative work should be rooted in great strategic thinking”. They might claim to have done that for some of their clients. But here, they’ve conspicuously failed.

The Marketing Blog also points to a prnewswire report that an accountancy firm is suing Barclays over the line “now there’s a thought” as they’ve been using it for 5 years.

It also reports that “The campaign and accompanying strategy to position the bank as customer facing and approachable has been masterminded by group marketing director Jim Hytner.” I wonder if Jim is the brother of Nicholas Hytner, the director of The Madness of King George? In the time of his insanity, King George III carried on a conversation with an oak tree as if it were the King of Prussia. I imagine that his courtiers had to go along with the delusion. That’s probably what it’s like in the court of Barclays bank.

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