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Should banks stop advertising?

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In a post that I’m sure will get a response from some folks (Jeffry?), February’s Banker Magazine (I write a monthly column for them) dropped onto my doorstep this morning with the front page: "The World’s Top 500 Banking Brands".

You might be surprised that there are 500 banks around these days but this is worldwide, and the top ones are pretty obvious (last year’s position in brackets):

1     (1)     HSBC (UK)
2     (3)     Bank of America (USA)
3     (8)     Wells Fargo (USA)
4     (4)     Santander (Spain)
5     (16)   ICBC (China)
6     (5)     American Express (USA)
7     (2)     Citi (USA)
8     (7)     BNP Paribas (France)
9     (18)   China Construction Bank (China)
10   (6)     Chase (USA)

with a few other interesting movements in there such as:

  • Bradesco, Brazil – up from 42nd to 12th
  • Banco Itau, Brazil – up from 54th to 21st
  • Shinsei Bank, Japan – up from 230th to 142nd

whilst big losers include:

  • Bank of Ireland, Ireland – down 98 places from 61st to 159th
  • OTP Bank, Hungary – down 109 places from 67th to 176th
  • AIFUL, Japan – down from number 168 to 418th
  • e*trade, USA – down from 246 to position 458

I won’t go through the process the magazine used, you'll have to buy it to find that out, but it does seem to imply that most American and European bank brands are falling in value whilst the BRIC (Brazilian, Russian, Indian and Chinese) bank brands are on the rise.

This concurs with a few other branding rankings I spotted, such as Millward Brown’s 2008 BrandZ report 2008:

“The overall brand value of financial institutions increased despite challenges faced by British and U.S. banks because of the sub prime crisis. In contrast, Chinese banks have experienced two consecutive years of growth. It is hard to tell how much of this success is driven by good management and how much by favorable economic conditions. Chinese banks brands also benefited from recent IPOs that strengthened the bond between brands and their shareholders.”

In their top 100 brands (Banker positions in brackets):

Bank Overall
Rank  Rank
1         14     Bank of America, brand value up 15% (2)
2         15     Citi, down 10% (7)
3         18     ICBC, up 70% (5)
4         20     American Express, up 7% (6)
5         21     Wells Fargo, up 2% (3)
6         31     China Construction Bank, up 31% (9)
7         32     Bank of China, up 42% (15)
8         34     Royal Bank of Canada, up 39% (27)
9         35     HSBC, up 6% (1)
10       42     Deutsche Bank, up 14% (17)

Meanwhile, in the most well-known branding list, Interbrand places the banks as follows:

Bank Overall
Rank Rank
1         15     American Express, up 5%
2         19     Citi, down 14%
3         27     HSBC, down 3%
4         34     Merrill Lynch, down 21%
5         37     J.P. Morgan, down 6%
6         38      Goldman Sachs, down 3%
7         41     UBS, down 11%
8         42     Morgan Stanley, down 16%
9         86     ING, down 3%
10       100   Visa, new entry

I left out Thomson Reuters, Allianz, AXA and a few others in the financial space as they are not included in the Banker’s lists.

What this demonstrates is how rapidly bank brands are trashed and how painstakingly and costly they are to build.

For example, think about the number of airports, sports stadiums, leagues and music events that are sponsored by financial and banking brands. Now think of how you feel when you see them today.

Citi Field is the new $850 million baseball stadium being built for the New York Mets.


Citi are paying $20 million a year for the next twenty years to have their name there in lights.

Unlike AIG who sponsor Manchester United, with sponsorship about to be withdrawn.



Meanwhile, RBS sponsor Europe’s Six Nations Rugby tournament and have just renewed their four-year contract.


The last action is understandable, as the bank uses the six nations to entertain their corporate clients ... mind you, a £5 million ($7 million) per year corporate entertainment bill may seem a bit excessive considering the current state of said bank.

I could post so many more, but when even American Express’s marketing and promotion expenditure is down 35%,due to tumbling profits, there is going to be a big drop in bank advertising and branding.

It does not mean that bank advertising disappears altogether, just that it gets a lot less in your face.

For example, I noted how awful HBOS adverts were in October and they were soon withdrawn, thank gawd.

In fact, the only banks advertising actively over here appear to be Lloyds Banking Group:

and HSBC (this is not their UK ad, but is one of the best bank ads of the year):

Even then, I wonder how much influence this has and whether the multimillion dollar budgets are really worth it, a question I've asked before.

What I would do right now, if I owned the bank's marketing budget and we were struggling, is to focus upon creating the best Facebook page, MySpace blog or YouTube rant, and advertise the bank that way.

Use these sites as a method of advising on how to get through a credit crunch for your corporate and consumer clients.

Use these facilities to tell everyone how you’re managing your budgets these days to get through this crisis as cheaply as possible.

Just use them to get a message out there that does not seem to be out there: we know you are angry with us and here's what we're doing about it.

After all, if your brand can lose 10%, 20% or even all of its brand equity in just a few months, thanks to the trashing of your balance sheet, then tighten the belt, show people you are doing so and get an honest message out there.

Meantime, my favourite ad of the moment?

T-Mobile’s crowdflock …

Nice use of advertising combined with crowdflocking, and it’s got everyone over here talking.

Oh yes, and it was filmed at Liverpool Street, the main train station for City bank workers. I guess we all needed a bit of cheering up.

Chris Skinner Author Avatar

Chris M Skinner

Chris Skinner is best known as an independent commentator on the financial markets through his blog,, as author of the bestselling book Digital Bank, and Chair of the European networking forum the Financial Services Club. He has been voted one of the most influential people in banking by The Financial Brand (as well as one of the best blogs), a FinTech Titan (Next Bank), one of the Fintech Leaders you need to follow (City AM, Deluxe and Jax Finance), as well as one of the Top 40 most influential people in financial technology by the Wall Street Journal's Financial News. To learn more click here...

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