Seeking to connect with customers in a fresh way — and possibly providing damage control for the industry at large — Citizens Financial Group is launching an advertising campaign reminding consumers of the traditional roles banks have played in society.
The campaign, built around the tagline "Good banking is good citizenship," plays up Citizens' impact on communities, be it as a lender facilitating economic growth or as an environmental steward offering electronic banking instead of paper statements.
In one television spot, a man dressed in Colonial garb and identified as "Alexander Hamilton, secretary of the Treasury, retired," walks into an office and hears about various volunteer projects the staff is working on, prompting him to ask, "What are you, a bunch of do-gooders?" "No," responds one employee. "Bankers." Another ad juxtaposes a dramatized town hall meeting in contemporary America with an imagined gathering of the founding fathers; citizenship and shared prosperity are the primary themes of both.
The ads come at a crucial time for banks, as Congress sets about reforming regulation of an industry at the center of public scorn. The timing also is perhaps awkward for Citizens' parent company, Royal Bank of Scotland PLC, which on Monday announced it will slash another 2,600 jobs. But Ellen Alemany, the chairman and chief executive of the $144 billion-asset Citizens, said the Providence, R.I., holding company for Citizens Bank and Charter One has been shielded from the problems of its U.K. parent, which is 83% state-owned, allowing it to focus on its 1,500 branches and 12-state footprint in New England, the Middle Atlantic and Midwest.
Alemany said the new campaign culminates the back-to-basics strategy she embarked on when she joined the company from Citigroup Inc. in mid-2007. Citizens has redeployed resources to areas with a direct line to customers, cutting back-office staff while adding hundreds of mortgage bankers and beefing up its wealth management, cash management, and student and small-business lending efforts. Citizens also has been adding hundreds of automated teller machines and investing more than $500 million in technology designed to improve customer service.
"The branding is really the last piece to pull it all together, and when we thought about who we are, this [campaign] really captures who we are as a company," Alemany said.
Ogilvy & Mather created the campaign, which begins Wednesday and will run through the summer. Citizens would not disclose its cost, which includes television, print, and online and outdoor advertising, but Alemany said the budget is unchanged from previous years.
Albert Greco, a marketing professor at Fordham University in New York, called the citizenship theme "clever" and a potential antidote to the negative feelings that consumers have about the banking industry.
"While we need banks because they issue credit cards and loans and mortgages, I think some people have forgotten the pivotal role they play in society," Greco said. By reminding them, Citizens is "way ahead of the curve," he said, while most large banks "are not really addressing the idea of, 'we're citizens of the community and we're contributing to the community.' "
And that is what people want to hear right now, said Theresa M. McLaughlin, Citizens' chief marketing officer. In research and focus groups involving retail, commercial and small-business customers, "the trust factor, the issue around how emotional people are feeling about this topic, came through loud and clear," she said.