I am pleased to report (belatedly) the demise of Yes Car Credit a company that specialised in selling cars with finance in the “subprime” market. I blogged a BBC expose of this company early last year and it seems that the dismal unpleasant reality of its service completely overwhelmed the illusion of its hefty advertising budget. (For example just see the reviews it got on dooyoo.) At the end of 2005, Yes Car Credit was closed.
Needless to say, the market for other dodgy and exploitative lenders remains wide open, and no doubt Yes will be swiftly replaced by others.
But I see an opportunity here for respectable financial institutions. They’ll probably grasp it if they understand the value of building community and they’ll miss it if they stay too obsessed with instant returns. It’s an opportunity to win by doing something worthwhile that uses – and promotes – their core expertise.
It would help if they allowed themselves to become disillusioned with mainstream sponsorship as a means of promotion. Years ago, a client of mine sponsored a televised snooker tournament. They were (coincidentally) a subprime lender themselves, and thought it was rather clever to get this sponsorship, hitherto the province of the cigarette companies. Thus the “Mercantile Credit Classic” was born. Oh dear. As my boss at the time drily observed, the effect was probably only that a few punters went into the newsagents and asked for a packet of Mercantile Credit.
So many brands seem to sponsor stuff which really has no connection with their business at all, in a lame attempt to curry favour with customers or satisfy the directors’ vain desire to hobnob with celebrities. Ok, in fairness I daresay they can pull out stats about awareness building, audience share, demographics blah blah blah… but that seems to be part of the old style, buy-your-way-to-fame, approach to marketing.
Take the Nationwide Building Society for example. In many ways, I admire the Nationwide for its effort to stand up for the principle of mutuality instead of just selling out to the stock market. But their sponsorship of soccer here in the UK leaves me baffled. Sure, soccer is popular, but if any sport is a byword for financial profigacy it has to be soccer. Is Nationwide sponsoring financial awareness classes for football managers? I don’t think so. No, they’re just trying to look good, and I suppose vaguely patriotic, by sidling up to all those footie fans. But what does sponsoring soccer tell us about Nationwide? How does this activity align with their purpose as an organisation? I haven’t bothered to look, but I daresay there’ll be some tortuous copy somewhere about values of excellence, teamwork, blah blah blah (with a side-ordoer of blah and a blah chaser). I fear most of these sponsorship boil down to lipstick on the pig, an effort to associate with something more glamorous in the hope some of it rubs off. And as a lazy alternative to generating word-of-mouth by doing something actually worth talking about.
Now why not take all that money away from abstract sponsorship. And combine it with the actual talents of your staff, and start offering a real community service by helping people who otherwise fall victim to loan sharks? You could at least offer them intelligent, compassionate advice. You could support them in forming some kinds of self-help groups or learning communities. I would think you could innovate some lending products that might suit them better and not rip them off or encourage them to overstretch.
You don’t need this to be hugely profitable though you might surprise yourself. And instead of lamely trying to look a little (and I mean a very little) like something glamorous, you’ll be providing us with an example of what you are actually supposed to be good at. Good heavens, instead of trying look a bit like people who look a bit like heroes, you could actually be heroic, in a small way, and do some good in the world.