CommBank's chief marketer Andy Lark has defended his brand's new 'Can' campaign in the face of what he's termed nonsensical, mindless and irresponsible social media commentary from the industry.
"What I'm interested in is informed opinions," said Lark (pictured), addressing an audience of marketers and agencies today. "One of the problems we've got… is that anonymity breeds irresponsibility and the mindless chatter and drivel dominates actually really good insights and comments."
His statement follows a swathe of both supportive and cutting commentary from the industry on the bank's Toni Collette-fronted TVCs, created by M&C Saatchi, over the past week - commentary which has dominated community discussions on B&T and across the trade press.
"I know there are negatives about the campaign. I know it's not perfect. I know there are things that people won't like. I am interested in hearing those perspectives, I really am, and they challenge us to be better and they keep us on our toes.
"[But] how do we…separate out the mindless drivel and nonsense and the people who think that we… don’t actually do any research and think through these things, from the people who actually have genuine comments and actually good points?" Lark asked.
In a show of sector solidarity in the face of rampant criticism, the CBA marketer took a moment to champion the work of his marketing competitors.
"Australia has a large number of really remarkable marketers including a lot of my competitors who are performing against the odds, against a reasonably cynical, bitchy, whiney environment and I really admire them for that," he said.
But his praise of the sector's work was short lived. Lark stressed the need for the 'big four' local banks - ANZ, Westpac, NAB and CBA - to stop attacking each other in their advertising, quit playing copycat and blaze their own paths.
"There is a certain lack of willingness to blaze your own path as opposed to kicking the shit out of everyone else…. It's really hard to inspire thoughtful marketing… with that kind of approach. It's dead easy to take a mallet to any competitor.
"The whole industry switches into that mode of seeking to tear each other's hearts out at every opportunity as opposed to inspiring the hearts and minds of the customers we are seeking to serve," said Lark.
When asked if he was referring to NAB's recent 'Break up' campaign, which urges consumers to cut ties with their existing bank, Lark was diplomatic. "I think NAB was actually on strategy…[but] I'm not sure I would have done that strategy myself. I've seen that strategy done many, many times overseas."
What do you think of the banking sector's advertising in Australia? Is CommBank's new campaign more or less effective than the rest? Leave your comments at the end of this article.
According to Lark, the research undertaken in the lead up to 'Can' gleaned the overwhelming insight that middle Australia was sick of negativity in banking advertising and sick of banks talking about each other.
"If we insist on standing on each other's shoulders all the time we could all end up being very small. We actually have to pioneer ourselves our brands. We don’t need to pioneer them on the basis of other people's brands," he said.
For having joined the bank less than one year ago, Lark is making his mark on the organisation swiftly, albeit unintentionally. While his arrival prompted an agency reshuffle, with M&C nabbing the sought-after account from US agency Goodby Silverstein, and a major new brand positioning, the CMO is adamant that it has been his team which has been the change agent. The 'cult of the CMO', he believes, is "just garbage".
"The role of the CMO is vastly overstated… I did not walk into that job going 'Right, number one: change agencies, number two: change the brand,' that was not my goal. In fact, one of the things that attracted me to the role was Goodby.
"But as I listened to my team they were saying 'We are really not happy with the way this works and we really are concerned with where the brand is at and the goals we originally set out to achieve actually largely have been achieved.'... When we really looked at the data we concluded that it was time to make a change.
Now, faced with the grand challenge of living up to the inspiring, albeit lofty catch-cry of 'Can', Lark is pragmatic about the brand's ability to satisfy its big service promise.
"Can is not about absolutes, can is about an attitude," he said. "People are not as black and white as the serial opinionators out there would have us believe and we know from time to time we are not going to be able to do something for a customer and that is not the point of the word.
"The point of the word is that even if I am unable to give you what … you want or do what you want right now, I can get you on a journey to get there."
Lark said the bank had been inundated by thousands of requests from schools and hospitals asking for copies of the poem to distribute to their students and patients, respectively.
Lark delivered his address at Mumbrella 360.
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