All that's solid melts into air

Main Image Detail107548114 / Hidehiko Sakashita / Flickr Select


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It’s probably the first time that The Communist Manifesto has been quoted in a report on financial services.

But the phrase coined by Marx and Engels captures the very real anxiety people have around the value of money, how wealth and asset value disappeared so quickly and how age old certainties about our place in the world evaporated almost overnight.

As we mentioned in another part of this finance issue, this loss of belief is experienced by consumers as a crisis of value – how solid are my investments? What is my money really worth? Is my home worth the same or less than when I bought it? Value seems nebulous.  When banks, mortgage companies and even nations are making adjustments to support the solidity of their financial systems, how are financial institutions communicating reassurance to their customers and how does this translate through imagery?


HSBC in the future

A recent campaign from HSBC, which is future-directed in it's messaging, looks at the commercial drivers shaping our world, from the environment to education to emerging markets. What makes this campaign interesting visually, is its simple display of objects: a compass, a blackboard, a statue. These are concrete, tangible and physical.

What HSBC have understood is that when the notion of value is perceived as precarious by consumers, visualizing solid items which carry subtle but substantial psychological weight can counterbalance this. Each image, framed by the expanse of white space, makes the HBSC questions feel graspable and real. There are specific message being played out but the wider brand message communicated by these images is the idea of the ‘solid’.

What drives Volksbank

If the HSBC campaign anchors the bank and the idea of money in a solid representation of value, the campaign for German bank Volksbank also pitches itself firmly into the world of solid, tangible, things. The campaign - “What drives us” - asks broadly existential questions of individuals about the meaning of life, reportage-style. Thirty-second philosophy spots courtesy of a bank.

Volksbank’s campaign is at bottom a discussion of the idea of value. It’s about the idea of what matters in very concrete ways, showcased in movies that mix reportage and animation with a degree of attention and visual playfulness that makes it feel like more than just rehearsing the brand guidelines. In a different way to HSBC it is dramatizing this idea of value that all citizens in developed economies have been asking since the boom came to such a crashing end.

Citi turns 200

If consumers are aware of how speculation on abstract financial products created a bubble, Citi’s 200th anniversary ad pitches the bank in the great manufacturing projects of the industrial age. They use classic archive footage which is a great signifier of age and substance, showcasing how their investment helped people make things: the transatlantic cable, the Panama Canal, the Marshall Plan, the ATM, the Space Shuttle Program.  Visually it’s both epic and concrete.

This idea of  ‘hands-on’ work', and ‘making’ is really only starting to take hold. We will explore how it's played out further in our discussion of financial services and their relationship with small businesses later in this issue.

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