How NOT to get a city on your side

Chase bought Washington Mutual last year and entered the Washinton State market with a pretty big advertising and branding campaign. Unfortunately, I am not sure what message they were trying to send to Washingtonians in the process.

Washington Mutual (WaMu) was an established Washington state institution, where many people earned their living and did their banking – especially in Seattle. WaMu had embarked on very colorful branding campaigns in recent years that I truly admired for being so different from all the other banks out there. Playful, irreverent and a touch hip, these ads made the bank stand out from a sea of look alike competitiors that touted trust, reliability, and formality. They touted friendly, approachable service and mocked other banks’ fees. This is one of my faves.

Chase as a brand could not be more different from WaMu. Talk about a culture clash. Although, many of Chase’s TV ads in the last year, I must admit, have been a bit of a departure from staid, boring bank ads with some pretty sweet soundtracks and a sense of energy.

So now Chase takes over WaMu and breezes into town last year. In Seattle , I started seeing bus boards and billboards everywhere a while ago. They made ample use of the Chase blue branding (good move) and used simple headlines and graphics (another good move.) Where it falls down is that the campaign essentially insults all Washingtonians. The headlines have a very insulting tone, implying that us morons in Washington State never knew good, responsible banking until Chase came and saved the day. The headlines include “Let’s start banking better, Washington.” And that is one of the least offensive. There was lots of buzz initially on the internet from miffed Washingtonians on this issue.

I’m not normally overly sensitive to ads. But even I, a New Yorker by birth, immediately bristled at the insinuation Chase was making. I pictured a fat-cat, middle-aged, paunchy White guy behind a large mahogany desk, “You guys are completely clueless and you don’t know how to handle your money, ” (patronizing sigh, perhaps some eye rolling) “Let us “big city folk from New York City show you how it’s done so we can save you from yourselves, you idiots.” Really? A bank telling me how to handle my money after the year we just had? REALLY? And I’m not even a WaMu customer in the first place.

The way to win friends and influence people in a region where you’ve just taken over a proud state institution and conducted layoffs is not to insult people into liking you. Maybe a softer, “We’re proud to be here and call Washington our new home. We want to help you get through this financial mess together….” Blah, blah. Anything would be better. Their transition site does a better job with messaging than their ads – if you ever get that far before you angrily switch all your accounts over to Wells Fargo. And it seems that site had problems as well from a usability standpoint.

Branding – especially when you are new in town and facing a hostile and scared mob – needs to be better thought out and integrated among the advertising messaging, the online experience, and most importantly, in the actual customer experience. You have to make the promise consistently (and in a way that does not irk people) and then follow-through on the dellivery of services. In my opinion, Chase fell down with the brand ad messaging here before they even left the gate. Follow this example and you may as well rent a bus and drive your customers over to the competition’s doorstep.

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