Newspaper readers find ads created by financial services brands such as Egg, Capital One and MBNA poorly designed, confusing and cluttered, according to research by the Newspaper Marketing Agency (marketingweek.co.uk last week).
The NMA’s research shows that 90% of financial services advertising is not up to scratch in the eyes of consumers, who dismiss such ads as “wordy” and “cluttered”. Indeed, consumers knocked one MBNA credit card press ad as “a little cheap” and “almost child-like”.
The final results of the survey will be released later this year and could spell a major rethink on how marketers approach advertising across the sector.
The current approach, according to consumers, leads to confusion over brands. The NMA says: “At present, consumers feel the majority of finance advertising is uniform in approach and the brands are difficult to differentiate. Over-detailed, recessive and unengaging creative reinforces their negative perception of the category.”
In their defence, financial service companies argue their creative output is hindered by statutory information they have to put into adverts, the “wealth warning”.
They also argue they are comfortable with the “homogeneous” and “competitive” feel of the ads. Moreover, they say the advertising works.
Egg says it is disappointed by the NMA’s findings, adding that it tries to make its advertising as clear as possible.
The research initially looked at four finance categories – mortgages, loans, insurance and credit cards, with a quantitative study involving 1,000 people. This was then broadened out to 28 research groups involving the same sectors.
Financial services advertising across national newspapers amounted to £160m last year, despite losing market share to online competitors.
Newspapers, observers say, are still a valued forum for financial services companies to lure new customers, whether it be mortgages, bank loans or other services.
Some of the ads, though few and far between, did strike a positive chord with consumers. ING Direct, for instance, was named as a company whose ads showed a “real understanding” of consumer feelings, according to the research.
A spokesman for ING Direct says he was unsurprised by customers’ general negative response to ads from competing companies. He argues ING’s advertising is based on transferring its “simple” and “straightforward” brand attributes onto the pages of newspapers.
The spokesman adds: “If there are no catches in the product, then you do not have to clutter it up with smallprint.” The NMA will finish its research by the end of August, when it is likely to call on financial services companies to change the approach of their creative work and encourage them to trigger an emotional, as well as a rational response from consumers.
It will also call on them to adopt a more rigorous approach to testing their campaigns before they are rolled out – something it argues is frequently overlooked. Maureen Duffy, chief executive of the NMA, says: “Some of the advertising looks fine on glossy pages, but dull in newspapers.”
Whether companies and marketers will adopt these changes remains to be seen. The NMA claims previous research into other sectors, such as the car industry, has prompted improvements.
Yet the agency, which is funded by national newspapers, has come in for criticism in some quarters over its reluctance to engage with stakeholders and the relevance of its work.
It also suffered a blow when Express Newspapers pulled the plug on its investment in the agency – throwing doubt on its role and its capacity to deliver change. It remains to be seen whether the financial services companies will hold a similar view.