While working as a marketing communications executive, Emmanuel Mogaji started noticing patterns in the UK bank advertisements he saw during his morning commute. “Every time I saw a Lloyds Bank advert, I could tell it was one even though I was seeing it from far away,” he says. “I recognized the colour and the design and I began to observe those patterns. Every morning I would to hoard newspapers just to look at ads.” He wanted to know what consumers thought of the advertisements. People see them every morning but were the ads really working? Emmanuel had experience executing ad design, however, he wasn’t involved with the concept development. He wanted to know more about the thought process behind the advertisements so he saved up and started a PhD. Now Emmanuel is a Lecturer in Advertising and Marketing Communications in the Department of Marketing, Events and Tourism at the University of Greenwich.
The banks advertisements he was collecting from the morning papers became the subject of his dissertation. “When I started I really just wanted to find out the themes that banks use in advertisements. But I discovered that that wasn’t really solid enough for a PhD,” explained Emmanuel. He narrowed his focus to the emotional appeal UK banks used to improve their reputation with consumers. After the global financial crisis in 2008, many UK banks changed their marketing strategy. The big banks needed to improve their reputation and rebuild trust with their customers. To redeem themselves, they went for an emotional appeal. Lloyds Bank started to run ads using cartoons. Halifax’s ads featured choirs of employees singing hit pop songs and Santander used Formula 1 driver Lewis Hamilton.
The first part of Emmanuel’s research was analyzing the ads to find out what messages the banks were trying to convey with their advertising. He looked at 1,274 UK bank advertisements to understand how the banks structured their emotional appeals. He found that many emphasized the idea of the bank as family. They also relied on their heritage and the fact that they had existed for centuries. The second part of his research was exploring consumers attitude towards these brands. Were consumers actually hearing what the banks were saying and did it impact their banking activities? Emmanuel interviewed 33 bank customers about their attitudes towards the bank brands and adverts. The consumers liked the adverts, but were lackluster towards the banks themselves. Banking is utilitarian; most people don’t have an emotional connection to their bank. There was a general feeling that all banks were the same. Consumers were more interested in the services the banks offered, like their interest rates and credit card rewards. The advertisements served to create awareness of the different banking options available, but did not influence consumers to switch banks.
At the same time, new online banks started popping up. Their marketing strategy was purely rational. They didn’t need to use emotional appeal to beg for forgiveness, as they were too new to have been implicated in the financial crisis. Their ads were straight to the point and highlighted the services they offered. “For example, one popular bank is First Direct. First Direct adverts always have a black background with white text. So it’s straight in your face, ‘this is what we do.’ They were so distinct,” says Emmanuel.
The next time you flip through the morning paper, take a moment to look at the ads. They just might change your life.