NAME THAT BANK!

Advertising has been likened to whacking a metal bucket repeatedly with a stick. The noise can be used to attract… or distract.

Advertising has been likened to whacking a metal bucket repeatedly with a stick. The noise can be used to attract… or distract.

So, what’s the right advertising message for the banks and insurance giants collapsing all around us. One slogan that no longer seemed to work was: “The Strength To Be There.” That one belonged to AIG, the powerhouse insurance corporation that ran completely out of strength in September and only remains “There” because of the $85-billion bailout it got from us taxpayers. The guy in charge of global branding for AIG now says, “We are actively exploring messages that would be appropriate for this environment.” How about: “Thanks A Million For The Bailout”?

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Ad professionals are on the job, devising bucket-whacking noise they hope will instill confidence in customers. At present, they’re urging widespread use of the “S” word. No, not that one! They suggest such soothing “S”es as safety, security, stability.

WaMu has jumped at this suggestion. In mid-September, Washington Mutual became the largest bank failure of all time, and it was taken over by JPMorgan Chase. Now, the merged pair are wooing customers with this come-on: “WaMu and Chase: Safe & Secure.”

Consider this just a bridge ad, however. Chase officials say that Washington Mutual’s national network of branch banks will only keep the WaMu logo for a while, then, they’ll be replaced by Chase’s corporate moniker.

In fact, many once-solid banking names are likely to disappear. For example, Merrill Lynch has been gobbled up by Bank of America, the remnants of Lehman Brothers were sold to Barclays, and Wachovia is being taken over by either Wells Fargo or Citigroup. So, if you’re looking for a solid investment in an otherwise sour economy, I’d suggest buying stock in a business that makes and replaces bank signs.

“In Scary Times, Messages of Strength,” The New York Times, September 22, 2008.

“Marketing Campaigns Aim to Soothe Clients When Banks Are Failing,” The New York Times, October 7, 2008.

“Battling the bastards is about as much fun as you can have with your clothes on.”

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