Hello. I’m the new ASB

With a collection of interesting characters and adversaries, some fairly intriguing back-stories and plenty of moolah at stake, the move of ASB from its agency of over ten years TBWA to Droga5 in June was one of the year’s most captivating stories. Not surprisingly, there’s been plenty of interest around the traps as to what Andrew Stone, Mike O’Sullivan, Jose Alomajan and the team would come up with—and whether the Droga5 mythology was all it was cracked up to be. Well, with a massive refresh of the bank’s brand and a new positioning statement around ‘creating futures’, you can now judge for yourself. But if the responses of the bank’s 5000 staff to the new brand and the confidence the main protagonists have in it are anything to go by, turns out it just might be.

Stone believes this is the biggest brand transformation he’s seen in New Zealand since BellSouth became Vodafone overnight. It’s certainly more than just another bank campaign and the new, personal, cheeky and fairly Kiwi brand voice that has been developed will be implemented across all touchpoints, from fax headers to Adshels, from the copy in the terms and conditions to the TVCs, from the redesigned and simplified online banking site to the ATMs, from the business cards to the staff t-shirts. The ASB yellow has been retained, but it has been changed slightly, as have the fonts, and, in a tangible example of ‘creating futures’, they’ve also chosen three emerging Kiwi graphic artists to create three pretty cool press advertisements.

The main brand tenets—and the things ASB wanted to focus on—were truth (always a tough sell for a bank), simplicity and humour. And not just in the comms, either, but across the whole business. To do this, one of the key themes in the new brand is based on the phrase ‘unbanklike’, something the client picked up on the initial brainstorming stages and wanted to run with.

Looking at the end result, it doesn’t really feel like a large bank. There’s a fairly whimsical tone to the work and it almost has the feel of something a small boutique ad agency would come up with for its own brand, with quirky business cards, jokey first person ads, localised Adshels and a big yellow ‘Hello!’ welcoming customers in to the new (and as yet unlaunched) website.

There is an occasional hint of twee about some of the executions, but overall it seems to hit the mark and achieve its goal of creating a point of difference.

ASB general manager of brand and marketing Deborah Simpson says feedback from customers about the role their bank should play in their lives was pivotal to the development of the new campaign.

“Our customers have been telling us they want their bank to look behind their transactions, to deepen the relationship between us by understanding and forming connections with their aspirations and dreams,” she says. “‘Creating Futures’ answers this call.”

She says there has always been quite a bit of air between ASB and the other large banks (ASB regularly outperforms its competitors when it comes to customer service and it has 11,000 fans on Facebook, which seems quite impressive for an entity that people usually love to hate). But the main issue ASB now faces is that the gap is closing, something she believes is as a result of those competitors replicating ASB. And this massive relaunch is about finding a way to increase the gap once again.

After a reconnaissance mission to unearth some interesting stories from ASB staff, eight stories were chosen for the TVCs. And they will all be housed on ‘The Hub’ (in what Stone believes is a New Zealand first, the first three TVCs will be available online before they all go live on TV, which is intended to be a reward for heading to the new site).

When the staff were asked what they did, it was often process based, such as ‘I lend money’. But Stone says this new campaign is a lens through which to look at their roles and give them some context to show they’re often helping people. And because Droga5’s creative director Mike O’Sullivan says the internal comms was “all over the place”, the work recognises that each employee can be a powerful advocate. So, in keeping with the need to ramp up this employee engagement, 160 ASB staff auditioned to feature in the ads and 70 were given acting roles.

“These are authentic situations we address with our customers every day,” Simpson says. “So using our ASB people rather than professional actors in front of the camera to portray the part they play is not only logical but also the right thing to do. The stories people see are a reflection of ASB itself—human, genuine, strongly service oriented and future-focused.”

After a teaser campaign that kicks off on TV on Sunday, the first two TVCs, which were directed by Flying Fish’s Gregor Nicholas and features original music from New Zealand composers from Franklin Rd, will go to air. The first one deals with the fairly intimate issue of fertility to show that ASB has a specialist service to help out with funding for IVF and the second is a sheep-based celebration of the entrepreneurial spirit the bank often claims to find in its customers. The third execution, however, will be completely digital (Droga5’s digital man Alomajan worked with Supply for many of the digital executions).

O’Sullivan thinks it’s incredibly brave for a bank to kick off the relaunch with an ad about IVF, but he says it is also an indication of the bank’s belief in finding ways to assist their customers with new products and services.

With Simpson’s heritage working on the ASB account when she was with TBWA, and the well-established reputations of the Droga5 gang, she’s aware there will be a few doubters/haters. But she’s not too concerned about that and, after the phenomenal (and for her and Droga5, very gratifying) response to the new brand from the staff after it was launched internally by 50 “brand transformers” this week, she has no doubt they will be great ambassadors and will spread it far and wide.

“Our people have been saying ‘you’ve really nailed it, you’ve really you’ve shown what makes ASB, ASB’,” she says. “We’re telling real stories but in an entertaining way and speaking to our customers in a way they can identify with.”

Stone didn’t want to comment on anything to do with TBWA or whether ASB’s decision to move was because things had got a little stale after more than ten years together. But Simpson says the world has changed so much since Goldstein was launched ten years ago. And while Goldstein was a revolutionary, hugely successful and enduring banking campaign, she says the research conducted earlier this year showed that “customers didn’t want to hear about us, they wanted to hear about what we could do for them” (this doesn’t quite seem to mesh with the rampant use of ‘I’ throughout the comms, however).

As well as the quantitative research conducted earlier this year, Stone says ASB’s Project Leap, a strategic review of the business that led to 14 initiatives being tabled, showed that brand—and making it relevant for the next decade—was one of the priorities, along with branch, IT and products and services.

“The research showed that most banks talk about themselves. There’s a lot of chest beating about what they can do,” he says. “Secondly, they said all banks are the same. So we had to differentiate it. A lot of banks just compete on their term deposit rates. And you can see that because all bank websites look the same.”

Despite 95 percent of visitors just wanting to check their accounts when they head online, Stone says banks will always try to sell you something and put a tiny login button at the top. So, in what he sees as something of a departure, the ASB internet banking page has been redesigned with a much bigger focus on the customer experience (the virtual Facebook branch will also be retained, as will schemes like Save The Change). Of course, ASB is still trying to sell something, but it’s been made easier and the big ‘Hello’ is something Stone says the ASB contingent really liked and kept coming back to.

This is obviously a big relaunch for ASB, as evidenced by the nationwide staff roadshow. But it’s also big for Droga5 (you know they’re pushing for publicity when Deborah Pead gives you a call and tells you how much she likes the campaign. And then follows up with an email saying what she’d just said on the phone).

The agency now has 30 staff, with around 80 people in total involved in the ASB relaunch (and, something Stone seems quite proud of, there wasn’t one leak). When asked whether it has got any additional work, he says they’re talking to a range of clients. But this massive project has been keeping them pretty busy over the last few months. Still, with TBWA’s reliance on ASB becoming evident after it departed, Stone and Co. will be keen to get their hands on some more business to avoid the same fate.

Not surprisingly, Stone is confident this will happen soon and he says his discussions with clients last year before setting up Droga5 showed that they were “sick and tired of talking to five different companies”.

“[ASB] wanted us to define the look and feel and then deliver it to the business. And we believe the right model is to be the central hub, the co-ordinator,” he says. “Co-creation is something we really believe in.”

In fact, he says they even registered cocreation.com recently. And he believes the completely open style of collaboration between the agency and client (and also between customers, community groups, contractors and the bank’s own people) is where things are going.

“This is a working example of that. And what we’ve done here is what we’ll continue to do,” he says. “We are very certain that this is the way for brands to be created; it’s a transformation of the way we’ve collaborated with clients.”

  • If you’re really keen, ASB’s Hub goes live on Sunday night and both TVCs will be available to view online.

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