By In the banking industry, there are very few images that invoke a bank's name as strongly as Wells Fargo's stagecoach - especially west of the Mississippi River. After purchasing Wachovia, Wells is bringing that iconic symbol east.
The merger between San Francisco's Wells Fargo and Charlotte's Wachovia was completed on the first of the year. The process of converting Wachovia over to Wells is going to be slow and precise, as has been Wells Fargo's reputation. But with the banking industry in a state of severe turmoil, disseminating a unified message couldn't wait. So on January 2, the new brand became, "One team, twice as strong."
The television spot states via a male voiceover: "We're now one team that's nationwide and twice as strong...so while it's business as usual today, you can look forward to even more great things ahead."
And while the retail side has gotten the most notoriety, Wells is also making a strong push to shore up the brokerage and wealth management sides. In addition to the "one team" message, the ads also tout that, "Together, we form a team that has successfully navigated fluctuating economic times and volatile markets on behalf of our clients."
Martin Skea, who heads marketing for Wells Fargo's wealth management group, says that the merger will allow the bank to play off of Wells Fargo's reputation for cross-selling or pitch Wachovia's outstanding marks for customer-satisfaction.
Late last year three mergers rocked the world of banking: JPMorgan Chase-Washington Mutual, PNC Bank-National City and Wells-Wachovia (and that's obviously not including Bank of America-Merrill Lynch, which, from an advertising perspective, is a whole different story). Wamu ads littered the market literally saying, "We love Chase." Which seems honest enough considering the thrift was scooped up after failing. PNC is going with the slogan, "Two of America's best-known banks. Now simply one of America's best," which seems to acknowledge that NatCity's struggles before it was acquired. PNC was unavailable for comment.
Historically, these introductory ad campaigns are the norm - especially with large mergers - in order to build awareness, says Ron Shevlin, senior analyst with Boston-based research firm Aite Group. But today's volatile marketplace creates a different set of circumstances, but an opportunity as well - an opportunity that these banks are missing out on.
"Without trying to sound too critical, what I find disappointing about these approaches is that they just don't seem to address the concern, the skepticism, and the lack of trust among the customer base," Shevlin says. "Making these empty claims of, 'Now we're together; we're the best,' or, 'We were two great banks before and now we're one great bank,' - is anybody really buying into that stuff?"
Part of the marketing blitz for Wells Fargo was the launching of a blog to dispense information about the integration of the two banks, as well as to receive feedback. Shevlin says that this is a good idea, but the banks should be marketing the blog harder. For example, the blog should be easier to find on Wachovia's Web site and the ads should make reference, even if in small print, to the blog.
On January 12, the new television spot was posted on the blog. While most posts are positive, there are several skeptical of the new campaign. One poster stated: "Wow! Am I the only person that has a problem with the 'business as usual' line? I would say the public is a bit fed up with business as usual when it comes to their financial institutions. To me it smacks of arrogance."
Indeed, many Americans have lost faith in the messages that banks are presenting. A 2008 survey conducted by the Better Business Bureau of over 1,000 consumers, 20 percent said that they had very little to no trust in banks/financial institutions/stock brokers, up from 14% in 2007. "Sometimes these ads feel out of touch with today's reality," Shevlin says. "Simply trotting out the stagecoach, I'm not sure that that's what's going to create that level of assurance among a bunch of East Coast, Southeast, older-than-average customers."