Orangutans, horses and marketing ethics
As a Chartered Marketer I’m well versed in the CIM definition of marketing as being: ‘the management process responsible for identifying, anticipating and satisfying customer requirements profitably’.
Within this, the role of marketing communications is to shine a spotlight which curries favourable associations and attention to help drive purchase uptake and loyalty.
However, while I buy into that, is that enough?
What about ethics?
While most Christmas ads are festive by nature, the latest unconventional animation from Iceland got me thinking about this.
With beautifully crafted storytelling, the Iceland ad highlights the plight of orangutans through deforestation of their natural rain forest habitat caused by the production of palm oil. As a result, Iceland pledge to remove palm oil from all its own-brand products by the end of the year to support an orangutan-friendly Christmas.
While the ad deserves credit on merit alone, attention has been greatly amplified due to it being banned for having ‘contravened the prohibition on political advertising’.
As a spokesperson for Iceland says, “it was never Iceland’s intention to use its Christmas advert to support a political campaign – rather to raise awareness and solidify our position on not using palm oil in food production".
However, it has so far also gathered over 550,000 signatures in a petition to overturn the ban. Plus, it has amassed 3.2m views and counting on the Iceland YouTube channel (compared to a lowly 97k views for its 2017 ad). So, ban or no ban, serendipitously Iceland looks to be a winner either way.
This is principled marketing at its best.
Yet this ban also serves to highlight the perils of navigating the uncertainties of advertising approval for those ads that aren’t completely cut and dried cases.
As a flip side, take the advertising verdict which went the other way and was approved to air despite complaints to have it banned. Lloyds bank 2017 black horse brand campaign.
Few would disagree this advert is a high-end creatively impactful production. Developed by the fantastic Adam & Eve agency it’s a cinematic masterpiece deserving of applause.
Nevertheless, through an ethical lens there are those who believe the black horse campaign fell short of the mark defined by the Advertising Standards Authority requirements that all ads be ‘legal, decent, honest and truthful’. Including 57% of their own customers.
To briefly recap…
The ad voice-over soothingly declares: “Yesterday, today and tomorrow, we have been and always will be by your side”. While text at the end states ‘By your side for over 250 years’.
This brought complaints, including victims of financial fraud, supported by Noel Edmonds (and according to Mark Ritson “not a man to fuck around with”). This grievance to the Advertising Standards Authority said the ‘By Your Side’ slogan was misleading and hypocritical. It cited fraudulent crimes committed by HBOS against its customers, and the manner in which Lloyds who later bought HBOS subsequently handled the fallout. Edmonds said: "Lloyds spent £25m last year on its Black Horse brand commercial using the line ‘By your side’, money which should have been spent compensating fraud victims".
In their defence, the bank commented “as the ad was not for a specific product or service and there was no call-to-action it could not, by definition, be misleading”.
The regulators agreed with Lloyds and ruled that the ad wasn’t in breach of the code. They said, “We considered viewers would understand the ad to be a general brand promotion and would understand the claim ‘By your side’ to be advertising puffery, not a claim that would be taken literally or be seen as requiring objective substantiation”.
Yet given the accepted wisdom within marketing that brand activity is the cornerstone of long-term sales success this appears a little perplexing to suggest brand advertising is merely inconsequential promotional puffery.
It is accepted that beyond raising awareness and acting as a reminder medium, advertising also shapes perceptions. It certainly has its work cut-out going by the 2018 Net Promoter Score sector rankings. This shows banking is one of the more distrusted industry sectors with past misdemeanours such as the Payment Protection Insurance (PPI) mis-selling scandal still casting a long shadow of grievance. As a case in point this was where banks were found to be aggressively lining their own pockets at the expense of their customers.
In truth, Lloyds appears to be working actively to rebuild its reputation and is doing much to invest in the future, including making its biggest ever investment in their people and branch network. Also, through their agency partnership with Adam & Eve they are applauded for their award-winning Diversity campaign to raise awareness of mental health issues. And rightly so.
As a result their own personal NPS score is rising, though according to Which magazine Lloyd’s still sits within the ‘worst banks’ category with below average ratings.
This could be a case of perception lagging reality given the time and effort it requires for brand shifts to gain a foothold in the wider world. So, it’s understandable to want to nudge and accelerate this through promotional activity. Advertising has the power to selectively amplify the good and distract from the bad. However, with the ‘By your side for over 250 years’ advert, many felt it was like perception trying to get in front of reality. In this case, no matter how beautiful the advertising it failed to gloss over past fraudulent events the public have evidently not forgotten about nor readily forgiven.
Let’s come back now to the CIM who earlier this year stated: ‘public trust in brands, organisations and the institutions of the state is low… it remains inescapable that marketing has plenty to do if it wants to keep the public on side and build strong trusted relationships with the audiences it wants to reach’. Or as one comment left below the Lloyds ‘By Your Side’ ad shown on YouTube states more bluntly: ‘Bad ads and false claims that are easily spotted get found out fast. If you're a scumbag, word gets out quickly - and that won't help your bottom line’.
As marketing practitioners our success is measured by how well we support the selling of goods and services. However, while companies are in cut-throat competition, winning against each other shouldn’t be at all cost. Success aligned with an ethical approach can help foster the right kind of ‘good ’ business opportunities.
It’s right for Lloyds to seek to bolster their reputation and image. But it was evidently folly to do so when viewed as glossing over on-going customer grievances. In this case they backed the wrong advertising horse to showcase.
People seek authenticity, transparency and honesty from brands.
Like Iceland, Lloyds has more potent stories to share. This is what they should focus on credibly banking against.