The Banks Have Some Explaining To Do

After monumental errors, nosediving share prices and the humiliation of nationalisation, the banking world has changed forever. So will their corporate identities and advertising adapt to fit the new realities?

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After monumental errors, nosediving share prices and the humiliation of nationalisation, the banking world has changed forever. So will their corporate identities and advertising adapt to fit the new realities?

It might seem that logos, commercials and colour schemes should be the last thing to occupy the banks right now, what with global financial meltdown and all, but surely campaigns and brands developed for a very different time (ie last week) can no longer be appropriate? Ever since the early 90s, banks have been attempting to project a friendlier, less formal image. Heraldic devices and serif type were steadily ditched in favour of rounded edges and updated typography. Everything became shinier, more colourful, less forbidding. It was all about innovation and modernity as banks started to project themselves as dynamic global brands, reflecting a shift in their management style and business aims – the upshot of which we are now experiencing.

Here, for example, is how the Deutsche Bank logo has changed over time:
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And remember the old Midland Bank logo?

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Now we have moved on to this kind of thing:

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So what happens now? In the UK, Royal Bank of Scotland, HBOS and Lloyds TSB have had to be baled out by the taxpayer. Similar schemes have been introduced throughout Europe and, latterly, in the US. The way we think of these institutions has changed completely. Instead of projecting themselves as friendly, casual, everything on a first-name basis, perhaps we’d like them to start acting a little more like they actually know what they’re doing? A bit more sober? A little more buttoned-up rather than dressed-down?

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In Landor’s now defunct logo for Morgan Stanley (designed in 2001) “the directional triangle… point[ed] toward growth and financial success”. “The firm needed to shift its image and be seen as more modern and innovative,” Landor explained. Unfortunately this spirit of “innovation” is now more typically characterised as reckless risk-taking.

Somewhat presciently, Morgan Stanley changed its logo in 2006 to this, rather more staid version, perhaps others will follow

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Barclays’ changing logo further illustrates the shift in banks’ visual language.

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In its case study for Barclays, Interbrand explains that “For many people Barclays epitomized the traditional and undynamic face of UK banking.” That “traditional” and “undynamic” style isn’t looking so unattractive at the moment. Perhaps it’s time to give that eagle back its claws?

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And for Bank of America, The Brand Union developed a positioning it summed up in this phrase: “We have the courage, passion and means to make banking work for you in ways it never has before.” Too right – yesterday, Bank of America received $25bn in emergency funding.

Dynamism, innovation, modernity – these aren’t messages that we really want to hear from our banks at the moment.

Advertising too has seen a change of emphasis. Lloyds used to symbolise its reliability and strength with a powerful black horse charging around a field. Now we have Marc Craste’s, admittedly charming, family on the ‘train of life’:

Barclays famously told us how great it was to be big

And that “something good” from the Halifax (the H in HBOS) isn’t looking quite so attractive

Our banking institutions need to re-establish trust and confidence. Time to bring back the pin-stripes and the heraldry?

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