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The context for the re-branding was the company’s extensive heritage in the region allied to the upsurge in profits, income and size over the last seven years. The company’s enduring strapline, ‘Big, Strong and Friendly’, which still resonates with people who grew up with it in places like Singapore, meant getting the rebranding right was critically important. And photography in a small, but significant way, was essential to the brand’s image.
Susan Ho, Head of Group Brand Development explained their heritage in the region, “we are the oldest foreign bank in China. We never left China, even during the war. We have a picture that gets circulated that we show to new joiners, a picture of an old branch in Shanghai, there are sandbags outside the branch, the bombs are falling and there’s a little sign outside the branch that says ‘business as usual’. And it’s true. We have this long heritage.” What they have done with this new branding exercise is to subtly shift from heritage to durability.
"Durability is not only a value, but a practical promise to consumers."
Heritage is a great brand resource, but in the current environment especially, many Financial Services companies make heritage play out as a benefit. Durability is not only a value, but a practical promise to consumers anxious about the security of their savings and investments.
The branding challenge was to assert what it is good at without being boastful, a problem for any large corporation, but in this instance there was an institutional and cultural inheritance which prizes humility over assertiveness.
“We were in a very strong position as a company, from our financial performance standpoint, and with respect to our competitors,” explains Susan Ho. “It gave us an opportunity to be bolder. At the same time, it’s not in our culture to be arrogant, so how do you strike this balance about being confident with humility that is so much a part of Standard Chartered? And also, tap into sentiments that are not just for now, but that are aspirational for the future.” Humility in terms of a visual language translates into modesty.
They also wanted to differentiate themselves from some of the conventions of communicating in this sector, primarily around themes of partnerships and relationships. Even when partnership is well executed it doesn’t reflect the generalised public scepticism in the US, UK and parts of Europe, around banking.
The idea of ‘Here For Good’ connected to values around longevity, aspiration and larger purpose. In the print campaign they wanted to build on the logo. “The logo is actually the ‘S’ and the ‘C’ in Standard and Chartered,” explains Susan Ho. “It’s part of our logo but we’ve not done a very good job in the last ten, twenty years, in telling the story about that, so for us it was an opportunity on the print side to give it a bit more emphasis and build on what we call a ‘trustmark’, to symbolise what we call this trust between the bank and the customers.”
They chose not to recreate the logo in their corporate blue and green colours, because they wanted something that would cut through the clutter. “It was a very bold move,” explains Susan Ho, “and had quite a bit of reaction internally, and we got through that.”
Internally, the response was similar to all branding exercises that seem to move away from established brand guidelines. “On a very basic level the reaction was partly, ‘You are the head of brand, and you ask us to be compliant, so why is the logo not blue and green?’ That was probably the most frequently asked question that I had”.
“For us to go ahead and get approval from the chief executive I think is a sign of the maturity of the organisation and the brand. If we use it well we don’t have to hide behind, or depend on the colours. The brand is not just about blue and green.” Design is important, but obviously branding is ultimately about philosophy, it’s about the spirit of the law not the letter of the law”.
In this campaign the design highlights crucially important values. In a recent item on the Creative Review blog, editor Patrick Burgoyne noted in a piece about MTV, the trend towards logos providing shape for imagery – the New York Tourist board and the London 2012 Olympics logo being just two examples. What makes the Standard Chartered use of logo and imagery so effective, is that it is a very simple, clever, and elegant way of expressing transparency and openness.
The trustmark is filled with black and white photography, it’s very plain and unassuming, hitting the brand notes. The documentary realism which we noted in our last Financial Services report as a minor note, is now becoming a compelling visual language.
The TV campaign is a visual execution of the company credo. The script and imagery address issues such as sustainability (in the sense of ecology and economy). Three of the film directors come from one of their core markets, Asia, Africa and the Middle East, bringing their own visual language.
Ezra Wube an African artist animated his paintings using new technology to express the idea of ‘Here For Progress’. The handmade quality of the animation also moves the company out of the slick, corporate space, back into consumer space.
Tian Zhuang Zhuang, a reknowned Chinese filmmaker, fills his 60 second documentary snapshot with images of modern and ancient, young and old that captures community and group purpose as well as heritage. Jordanian Sandra Madi’s piece focussed on customers and designer Stefan Sagmeister’s covered the international dimension of the bank. The branding is an inobtrusive sign-off, “there’s no feature of the badge in any of the commercials which was in itself quite a leap,” says Susan Ho. It is the kind of enlightened work that has traditionally scared marketing departments, but in the post-advertising world of social networking and customisation, where consumers expect to be in control, brands are increasingly taking a less didactic approach to communications.
With core markets in Asia, the Middle East and Africa, Standard Chartered haven’t suffered the kinds of credibility issues recently that banks in the US, UK and Europe have. Nevertheless, this major branding project captures key universal lessons. Transforming heritage into durability pictures a practical value for consumers. How the design and imagery has configured their logo they have tapped into a public desire for transparency and openness.
The handmade feel of Ezra Wube’s film connects with the bigger simplicity trend. And all the imagery, which includes different generations, pictures an underlying sense of wider social purpose for the organisation. In 2010, post-credit crunch, partnership is a warm but vague aspiration compared to the realism and commitment of purpose.
“…branding is ultimately about philosophy, it’s about the spirit of the law not the letter of the law.” – Susan Ho, Standard Chartered
The idea of Here For Good connected to values around Longevity, Aspiration and larger purpose. In the post-advertising world of social networking and customisation, where consumers expect to be in control, brands are increasingly taking a less didactic approach to communications.