BNZ tries to claim the moral high ground as Money is Bad/Money is Good teaser campaign comes to an end

After three weeks of TV ads, hundreds of mystery billboards, a few spray painted footpaths, a hijacked Twitter account that sent around 100 people to a fake money drop in Auckland, and a fair bit of speculation about who was behind the ‘Money is Bad/Money is Good’ teaser campaign, our suspicions were confirmed last night when the BNZ logo came into view alongside its new tagline ‘Be good with money’. 

  • Check out what BNZ’s chief marketing officer Craig Herbison said about the campaign here


Whether it’s brave or foolish for a bank to get into this space is certainly up for debate. On the plus side, it seems like a solid platform, it fits well with some of BNZ’s other ‘good’ sponsorship and community initiatives, it openly references what banks do, and it seems to have a wider purpose in terms of trying to improve New Zealand’s fairly shocking financial literacy stats. But on the other side of the coin, there is still a whole heap of mistrust around banks, their fiscal irresponsibility is still held up as a major cause for the world’s recent economic woes and there is a big chunk of the populous who feel they make far too much money (a story on the front page of today’s Herald is about the banks’ sky-high credit card interest rates).  

Add in BNZ’s chequered corporate history, where it was fined $654 million in 2009 after losing a high court case with the IRD, and there’s no doubt promoting a phrase like ‘good with money’ is risky. It also means that if it is isn’t squeaky clean and it does get caught out again, this campaign and everything it’s saying will quickly come back to haunt it.  

Even though it’s risky, at least it’s still in line with its core business. Telecom’s pink fist took a rather staid brand into completely foreign territory and we all know what happened there. But this makes sense. And, while there has already been a bit of commentary on the issue, as NZ Herald’s business editor Liam Dann wrote recently when discussing ASB and CommBank’s latest massive profits, there are some positive aspects of the banks doing well, because when they’re not, things have a tendency to start going pear shaped, as evidenced in Greece, Iceland and, increasingly, Spain. 

“If somebody is going to make money it might as well be the people that are looking after ours,” he wrote.

For Colenso BBDO, this campaign is about as far away as you can get from its fairly vanilla housing effort for Westpac, which featured a smug young couple buying an expensive house and stroking their espresso machine. And although it was around one year in the making from when Craig Herbison took over in the new position of chief marketing officer, it didn’t take too long for the new agency, which had done some pretty good work with him when he was with Vodafone, to get a big campaign out the door. 


One strange aspect of the campaign, and something that’s been mentioned a few times on Twitter, is the fact that the ad was shot in Los Angeles and, perhaps taking a leaf out of Steinlager’s book, used American actor Toby Huss in the lead. For a bank that had previously been pushing the phrase ‘Building Business builds Community builds Family’ through its BNZ presents campaign and, despite being Australian owned, has long been beating a patriotic drum, this is a fairly big departure. But, in terms of logistics, it would have been pretty hard to keep the secret if they’d filmed it in Henderson and, credit where credit is due, it’s hard to keep secrets these days, so while there was some informed speculation about who was behind it, they weren’t officially busted before the reveal. 

Much like CommBank’s Can’t/Can campaign, BNZ’s competitors also got in on the act (and guessed the reveal would be along the lines of ‘it’s what you do with it’), with Kiwibank running an online campaign using the ‘Money is bad’ phrase and creating a fair bit of discussion when it posted a picture of the billboard on its Facebook page, and Westpac buying up a few Google adwords.

In a world gone social, brands are kidding themselves if they expect to control the flow of information, as evidenced by the fake Twitter account, which some felt may have been part of the stunt to show why money is bad but was actually someone trying to show how easy it is to hijack a teaser campaign. Of course, whether the extra attention a campaign like this supposedly generates outweighs the alienation some feel by being kept in the dark—or the disappointment they feel when they find out who it’s for—is also up for debate. 

All 5000-ish staff found out about the campaign on Friday, with some departments receiving a chained up box with a $100 bill inside. But while there may be some excitement now, as one of the bank’s Twitter posts summed up, “the real stuff is in how we help our customers with money. That’s the important bit.” 

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