Why Barclays needs more than ‘Big’ idea

Following the disaster of its ‘Big’ ad campaign, Barclays is aiming to make its image more human. But will Simon Gulliford’s appointment of BBH make much of a difference in achieving this?

Last week’s appointment of Bartle Bogle Hegarty (BBH) as Barclays’ lead agency, in place of incumbent Leagas Delaney, is likely to herald a significant change in direction for the bank’s advertising.

BBH was appointed without a pitch by Simon Gulliford, who joined Barclays in May as group marketing director. He came from EMAP, where he also worked with BBH (MW last week). Leagas will remain on Barclays’ roster until the end of the year, but after that its future with the bank is unclear.

Advertising agency observers believe the appointment of BBH will result in either the demise of the bank’s £15m Big campaign, which featured Robbie Coltrane and Tim Roth, or a softening of it to give the bank a more “human” angle.

Barclays declined to comment. Gulliford was away on holiday.

BBH is also keeping its cards close to its chest. Barclays board account director Simon Exon says creative work will start next year and at the moment the company is in the research phase. He declines to confirm whether the Big campaign will be dropped, saying: “It’s too early to talk about specific elements.”

A change of direction may not be such a bad thing, given that the Big campaign created by Leagas Delaney was such a PR disaster. “A big world needs a big bank”, the ads said when they broke last March. But big is not always beautiful and only a month after the launch things got ugly.

At the beginning of April 2000 the bank closed 171 branches in one day, 90 of which were in areas where Barclays was the last or only bank. The pompous ads began leaving a bad taste in the mouths of customers. Only a little later it transpired in the annual report that group chief executive Matthew Barrett was paid £1.3m for his first three months’ work.

One source says: “The campaign certainly made an impact, which is no mean feat. But the danger was the degree of arrogance the ads conveyed. There was no humanity. BBH is going to have to move it on or ditch it. I suspect people will ask, ‘What can we do with Big to give it a human face?'”

Barclays’ rival NatWest hasn’t wasted the opportunity to have a dig at the branch closures. Its recent campaign, created by M&C Saatchi, featured bank customers complaining that their bank has been turned into a trendy wine bar. Not so at NatWest, it gloats, where bank closures have been put in abeyance.

A dangerous game perhaps, but one which shows the divide between the two banks’ approach to customers. One agency source says: “NatWest has been poking a stick in Barclays’ eye.”

He adds that the Big campaign is likely to be dropped: “The ads were stunning but flawed. Being big is not always good, especially when banks are trying to be human. It may be good for corporate business but not retail. Everyone you talk to in the advertising industry says it was an absolute disaster. I think BBH will be highly creative but will put the ads more in the real world.”

CCHM managing director Paul Gordon worked on direct marketing for NatWest while working for APL. At the time BBH handled NatWest’s above-the-line work. He asks: “Has Barclays just gone from one good television agency to another?”

Gordon questions BBH’s ability to come up with a brand idea, rather than just an ad. He argues that the company’s work on NatWest in 1996 and 1997 did not add anything to NatWest’s brand.

Gordon says: “Leagas Delaney’s ads are good television but not a brand idea. The big idea has got to run through everything, from below-the-line work to the point of contact with the customer. Big doesn’t. Has BBH got a greater idea of the brand to build it?”

As the bank moves forward, getting the tone of a new campaign right will be essential for Barclays. At present its strength in the market is undeniable. Half-year pre-tax profits for the six months to June 30 rose to £1.92bn, up from £1.65bn for the same period last year. Of this, £263m was from retail banking, compared with £165m for the same period last year.

But the smaller banks are gaining ground on the big four, including Barclays – which is second only to Lloyds TSB in terms of pre-tax profits. Last month, the Financial Times reported that mortgage banks such as Halifax (soon to merge with Bank of Scotland) and Nationwide are gaining ground in the current account market, with the big four’s market share falling from 75.9 per cent in 1999 to 73.4 per cent in 2000.

Extending the hand of friendship to customers with a more caring image may be necessary to ensure the rot doesn’t set in.

The Campaign for Community Banking Services was set up by 26 organisations, including the Federation of Small Businesses, Help the Aged and the Consumers’ Association.

Derek French, director of the campaign and a retired banker, remembers the impact of the closures and how people linked them with the ads.

He says: “The timing was appaling. I visited the areas where branches were closing and people had copies of the ads in their windows. Things like that go deep into people’s psyche. The ads are responsible for a gradual movement away [from Barclays] to other providers.”

But things are changing at Barclays. In April the bank announced that it was extending the opening hours of 84 per cent of its branches and recruiting 2,000 staff to facilitate this. Matthew Barret says: “The old reality of ‘bankers hours’ doesn’t really cut it any more.”

Perhaps this more customer-friendly side of the bank is something it can take advantage of in its ads. A big world may need a big bank but it also needs a friendly, convenient one. And while people like to be assured that their money is safe in a big company, this is only one of the bank’s assets.

If Barclays can find a way to show both sides of its personality to customers it may go some way to recruiting new customers and, critically, keeping existing ones.

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