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Not your dad's bank
Prerna Raturi | December 23, 2005
So there you are, moving to the beat of the latest hip-hop and Bhangra rap numbers. And then, your father jumps onto the dance floor -- complete with beer belly and receding hairline, panting. And he's doing the best tango you've ever seen, even as the crowd eggs him on. Would you be embarrassed? "I'd be proud!" exclaims Piyush Pandey, chairman, Ogilvy and Mather.
Pandey expects a similar reaction to the new State Bank of India ad campaign. Young, trendy and humorous aren't phrases commonly associated with the largest Indian bank, but Pandey insists no eyebrows are being raised at the new avatar.
SBI launched its new campaign in mid-October, beginning with teaser hoardings that invited passers-by to guess its identity. The hoarding would be replaced the next week with one that simply said, 'Surprisingly SBI.' Ogilvy & Mather is managing the entire campaign, although 10 agencies have been empanelled by SBI.
Says an SBI official, "It was time we shared with people the things they didn't know about SBI. That we have the latest, efficient banking solutions -- Internet banking, the biggest networks of ATMs, for instance." In other words, it was time for the bank to be noticed.
Why now? In June 2004, Ogilvy & Mather conducted research on how SBI was perceived. The study revealed that awareness about the bank, its products and services was particularly low among younger people.
So, the new campaign has been conceptualised to serve a dual purpose: it has to effectively market SBI's products and services and also achieve an image correction in the target group (25- to 35-year-olds).
Effective communication meant breaking away from the clutter. Thus, while other banks have celebrities as brand ambassadors and jingles that tug at your emotional chords, the SBI TVCs are in a lighter vein.
Based on the "losing a bet" theme, each of the four TVCs showcases a nugget of information about SBI. A young executive comes to office dressed in a smart jacket and tie with fire-engine red boxers because he didn't know that SBI car loans include road tax, octroi, and insurance.
A man suffers the agony of a legs wax because he didn't know several SBI branches are open on Sundays, too. 'Mohan' changes his name to Chimanlal Charlie because he didn't know SBI has the largest number of ATMs in the country.
The humour has helped drive the message home -- dipstick surveys show that the TVCs are being recalled not just as the 'boxers' or 'Charlie' ads, but also as the 'car loans' and 'ATMs' ads. But do financial institutions and funny ads really go together?
"Why not?" counters Kiran Khalap, co-founder of brand consultancy Chlorophyll Brand and Communications. "Sectors like pharma and finance used to be staid almost to the point of boring. The 'Surprisingly SBI' ad has done for SBI what 'Raymond's, the complete man' did for the suiting and shirting company -- that's the only ad for the brand that you remember."
Still, there's a lurking danger that the campaign may have done its job a bit too well. Until now, SBI has been perceived as the bank of "habit" rather than a bank of "choice." Now though, SBI is reaching out to a younger audience.
Remember, in any image makeover, the biggest challenge is to ensure the new strategy gets the company additional customers and doesn't end up replacing existing ones who may feel alienated by the new gameplan. Will SBI's older-generation customers react favourably to the new campaign? Will they like seeing their dads tango?
Ogilvy's Pandey agrees that any company is on shaky ground when it tries to do something like this -- talk to a target audience for a product that is for everyone. "But it is possible," he defends. "Look at what we did with Cadbury's. By showing different circumstances where adults behave like children, we targeted adults for Cadbury's chocolates, without alienating children."
Not everybody shares that viewpoint, though. A senior professional from the advertising world dismisses the SBI campaign as 'an immature ad for a mature brand.' And not just any brand -- he says SBI is a 'banking icon' and then questions, "How can I take the content seriously if the way it is presented to me is frivolous?"
A top creative director seconds that; he believes the ads look like they have been made solely for the younger generation. "The new TVCs are a little wacky and make the brand less serious," he says, adding that "serious" is an attribute that probably attracted many SBI customers to the bank until now.
Khalap's advice: a company should woo different audiences by plugging different features of the same product. That's possible by using different media to target different customer profiles. "Alienation happens when more than one target group is exposed to the same strategy," Khalap concludes. Left unsaid: that's what SBI is doing at present.
But then, banking is not just about image. It's about interaction with banking personnel at different levels; it's about customer service. "Though the campaign has very strong product benefits woven into the advertising, will it make more people opt for SBI as their bank?" Khalap questions.
Let's not ignore that banking no longer involves just a savings account. According to a January 2005 joint study by Visa International and the National Council of Applied Economic Research, credit and debit cards -- extremely popular with the young -- have grown 55 per cent a year over the past seven years. While only 3 million cards were being used in 1998, the figure now is 44 million. So, apart from getting the youth hooked to its credit and debit cards, SBI will have to do much more.
For its part, the bank has been doing its bit to improve customer experience. The bank is in its final stages of business process re-engineering. "It will make delivery faster. Mundane processes and jobs will be taken away from bank branches so that they can concentrate more on customer relationships," says an SBI official.
Products are also being modified according to market needs. For instance, an option for home loans has an overdraft account from which the customer can draw any amount of money anytime he wants to -- it will, therefore, cut down on the interest.
O&M's Pandey may be right when he says that SBI doesn't need to talk about its credibility. Still, there's no denying that it needs to work on losing its image of just another nationalised bank. Will it manage that? All bets are off.