Same Old Bankers


Breandan O Broin

When Halifax came to Dublin town, they set a marker down. We will not, they shouted from every available rooftop, act like other bankers. We will be different. We will charge less, pay extra and change things for evermore in the stuffy world of Irish bank-customer relationships. Television campaigns created a riot just to show how street-aware, switched-on and alternative to brand-leading banks Halifax would be.

In the early days, Halifax hired Publicis QMP to create ads where their staff took on the big banks in David v Goliath encounters. The commercials were meant to be a fun way of giving Halifax stand out. The campaign got a lot of attention, not all positive. A series of humorous stings were used for the brand's Late Late Show sponsorship.

Then along came Colm Meaney doing his ‘famous-Irish-actor-but-still-man-of-the-people' impersonation to tell us that Halifax had changed horses in mid-marketing stream and would now behave a bit more like the traditional Irish banks after all. What was Meaney if not one of our own, our very own? Halifax used Meaney to say they were now applying to join the fat-cat bankers club they had originally scorned.

What Halifax neglected to mention in this tsunami of conflicting communication strategies was that when the global financial tide turned against them, they'd be off like a shot – and so it has turned out to be. Backed by Bank of Scotland Ireland, Halifax abruptly announced a decision to turn tail and get the hell out of here.

Some 44 branches will close and 750 people have been dumped on the dole queue. Customers who switched to Halifax face the ignominy of going back to where they once belonged and we all have to face the reality that Celtic Tiger Ireland is an impoverished pussy cat no longer big enough to provide the cream for a fat cat.

We must also learn not to believe everything it doesn't say in the ads.

Sudden withdrawal


In its ‘Places and Faces' campaign, fronted by Colm Meaney and created by KDNine and Language, Halifax assured Irish consumers that ‘we are local', ‘we can be trusted', ‘we offer a great rate of seven per cent interest' and ‘we're open Saturday mornings'. These promises now count for nothing as Halifax has pulled out of Ireland.

As the consumer gets repeatedly bombarded with messages and appeals to support the home team and buy Irish in these straitened economic times, the consumer has every right to pose the question: ‘What does it mean to be Irish?'

It appears the Guaranteed Irish and the Love Irish Food campaigns have distinctly different views on the percentage of home-grown or manufactured inputs required to qualify for nationhood. The GI team seems to share Jack Charlton's elastic definition of Irish parentage, when in his days as national football manager the claim to have heard a chorus of a Clancy Brothers ballad was sufficient to qualify you for a green shirt. Not that we were complaining mind, as Houghton put the ball in the English net.

But now a new source of controversy and confusion has entered the fray as Dermot Jewell of the Consumers' Association takes a well-aimed swipe at once-upon-a-time Irish brands that still embrace an Irish heritage via their long-standing brand names.

Jewell singled out Old Time Irish Marmalade and Siucra, which today have little or no Irish content or context apart from their monikers. While most shoppers would have guessed that Old Time Irish wasn't made from oranges grown in Oughterard, they would have presumed its manufacture packing were carried out in Ireland.

Not so any more. Similarly with Siucra which has not been manufactured on these shores since the beet refining factories in Tuam, Mallow and Carlow were closed some years back. Is it fair that sugar from anywhere can be called ‘Siucra'? Or that Old Time Irish can be called Irish because it's made to an ‘Irish' recipe?

“Quite a number of products are being misrepresented and consumers don't know about it; they think they're buying Irish but they're also paying far more than the product is worth,” Jewell said. Even Paul Kelly of Ibec's Food and Drink Industry Ireland (FDII) admits there are some “inconsistencies” in local food labelling.

Inconsistency is one way to describe it.

As Ireland falters in her bid to capture another Grand Slam, Ireland's team of heroes are putting a little aside for the rainier days that will inevitably follow on from the glory years by appearing as spokesmen for various products and services.

By and large, they do an okay job of it, although the sight of our captain fantastic Brian O'Driscoll breaking through the defences of the Credit Union in order to get his money over the try line lacks the finesse that the man brings to his game.

Ronan O'Gara talks us through the final 15 minutes of conflict on behalf of Lucozade Sport in an adequate if unexciting manner, but that's fair enough. Paul O'Connell stands up like the man he is on behalf of Irish dairy farmers in NDC spots.

One ad does manage to stand out from the rest of the sporting fixtures – a neatly conceived, well shot and elegantly edited commercial for Kellogg's Nutri-Grain with Rob Kearney. Nutri-Grain claims to be the ‘Official snack bar of the Irish Rugby team' and – in a neat twist – ‘The Unofficial snack bar of everyone else'.

Everyone knows it's no fun selling high-price designer items right now. Opticians are almost certainly feeling the pinch like the rest of the retail world. Not only have they to cope with the lack of willingness among punters to splash out simply because they feel they are worth it, but their world is invaded by the optical multiples.

These retailers boast heavyweight ad budgets and offer two pairs of specs for the price of one and designer glasses for €49. That's why it was good to see an optician in Dalkey undertake a marketing fight back in recent times.

The retailer borrowed the marketing terminology of the motoring trade to promote his consumer offer. Big banners in his shop window proclaimed a ‘Specs Scrappage Scheme' and offered a €100 euro money-back deal when you scrapped your existing specs for a new pair. A far-sighted experiment and one that hopefully worked.

There is a story told of a copywriter visiting a creamery to find out the selling points of a client's new blend of butter. The meeting was dragging on, peppered with not very unique selling propositions based around quality, value, openness, honesty, transparency, green credentials and the fact that the creamery owner was an all-round good guy who loved children and small animals in a perfectly okay kind-of-way. Suddenly, through the window, they could hear a loud drone of a helicopter. The writer asked who was visiting. Nothing dramatic advised the client; the man on board the chopper paying his weekly visit to bless the cows was the Pope. “The Pope blesses your cows every week!” shrieked the adman, “that's amazing – why didn't you mention that before.” “Doesn't he do that for every creamery?” asked the client.

We mention this only to highlight the growing practice to align the great and god-like with a product in order to upgrade its commercial credentials. A recent ST told of Montblanc who producing a limited edition biro dedicated to Mahatma Gandhi.

Now, courtesy of Consumer Choice, we learn about Intentional Chocolate whose on-pack blurb claims it is ‘a premium chocolate with a special ingredient. You won't taste it, you won't see it, you won't even smell it'. That's harmless enough, although it appears baffling as to what good this secret ingredient actually is or does.

But that's not the half-of-it. Intentional Chocolate also claims to be ‘chocolate grown with love, manufactured with care and embedded with focused good intentions by experienced mediators, some of whom have trained with His Holiness, the Dalai Lama'. Reach for the top is what we say; the Dalai Lama seems an excellent choice of brand spokesperson. The man has always been full of good intentions.

Quest for quality food


Glenisk and Irish food producers like them will compete for the new Irish Food Producers' Awards. Sponsored by SuperValu, The Irish Times and Enterprise Ireland, the award winners will be announced on April 21st. Enterprise Ireland will sponsor a mentoring programme and a visit to a manufacturing centre of excellence in Italy.

John Terry goes to court to try and get a silencing order to prevent tales on his sexual misdemeanours appearing in the world's press.Why? Not because of any shame at what's he's been up to, but because the leaking of the sordid news might affect his earning capacity in the eyes of morally-conservative sponsors.

Whatever about Tiger Woods taking his sponsors for a walk on the rough side, any company that got into bed with Terry must have known they were not forming a commercial relationship with the Dalai Lama.

There's little doubt but that heads will roll at Ryanair as Mick and his managers come to terms with the firm's disappointing showing in the list of ‘ethically-rated' global companies compiled by the Geneva-based Covalence organisation.

Much to the hard-nosed airline's chagrin, Ryanair only managed to go as low as 575th on the latest barometer of how companies are perceived in the ethical field. “What's this”, we hear them cry, “not the worst – not good enough – where did we go wrong?” Lolling around in the bottom ten isn't bad enough for Ryanair. They really must try harder and move the likes of Monsanto, Chevron and Phillip Morris off that coveted last spot in the league table. No more Mister Nice Guy, guys. Kick more shit. (Incidentally, for those who care about that sort of thing, IBM, Intel and M&S are the good boys in the ethical class of 2010). Sticking with matters of trust, it comes as no surprise to find that the reputation of Brand Ireland is taking a bit of a pounding.

The 2010 Edelman Trust Barometer shows that trust in business and government in Ireland ranks lowest in Europe. In a pan-European survey, our trust ratings in these areas are in the low 30's compared to a European average of 50 per cent.

Understandably, Ireland's financial sector fares worst of all with only 23 per cent of respondents professing to retain their faith in our nation's bankers. Brand Ireland badly needs a re-launch. Are their any takers for this important task?

Could the project be handled on a cross-industry basis, led perhaps by IAPI? It's time somebody with something positive to say about Ireland and the will and wherewithal to say it stepped forward, took up the challenge and made things happen.

Ar aghaidh leis an obair.

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