Re-imagining value

Main Image Detail143907989 / Tim Robberts / Stone


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As the definition of wealth takes on new meaning for many people, financial brands are starting to reflect this with more diverse and socially responsible communications.

One of our clients shared an ad with us, that we loved - for Charles Schwab. While the spot is about getting smart financial advice and targeting younger investors, it’s also about a much bigger dynamic – what is the value of money? One character blows his cash on room service including $50 on a burger with kobe beef, truffles and foie gras. Charles Schwab who appears in these ads, translates the over-expensive indulgence of the foolish youngster, into ordinary, plain-speaking English – it’s a meat pattie.

Schwab plays it down-to-earth and sensible; contrasting with the humorous caricatures of the impulse buyers whose sense of monetary value appears wholly eccentric. The Schwab campaign locks onto the big driver of the culture and of the most interesting communications in financial services – after the Great Recession how do we get a sense of the value of money? How do we calculate our relationship to money?

Back in 2008, before the credit crunch, the meltdown in the markets and the chaos in international economies, our report on financial services had already began noting an underlying shift in consumer attitudes. We argued at the time that this shift towards communications would necessitate and emphasis away from aspirational consumption. That we would see a desire for more documentary type shots, more visual storytelling - imagery that seems more raw and less-produced.

Our assessment of the direction of image usage became the default visual language. But there was one small paragraph in that report that registered a significant psychological change in people’s attitudes to banks that has since been magnified to a degree unforeseeable in 2008. At the time we wrote “there has been a general decline in ‘deference’ to traditional institutions of power, and the internet has accelerated this process.” Due to revelations around business practices in banking sector, this ‘decline in deference’ by the public is now on an emotional spectrum ranging from scepticism and disbelief, to suspicion and hostility. 

Tony Clark, writing for Mintel research in the UK, highlighted that while the financial crisis had sparked a lack of trust in the competence of banks, the LIBOR scandal was the point at which dislike turned into outright disgust at the banking sector in general and, more specifically, at the perceived culture within the 'too big to fail' banking bracket. It’s no surprise that brands in the financial services industry are keen to highlight more socially oriented messages such as Liberty Mutual, whose ‘Responsibility project’ campaign features a very broad range of stories around the theme of accountability and conscientiousness.

Looking forward

This update to our financial services report will look at new directions for banks and finance brands wanting to cut through the dominant perception of institutions who deal with ‘money’. We will explore how 'anchorage', a concept we touched on 2008, has become the fundamental theme sitting behind the public’s relationship with money. We will look at how women and gender are being addressed in visual communications.

Back in 2008 we argued that we would see more images of women in financial services communications. Not just because they were a specific market with a specific visual language, but because they are a symbol of consistency, loyalty and security who in the main hold the family purse-strings. The glass ceiling in boardrooms meant that during the financial mismanagement of the previous few years, we saw few images of women in primetime being grilled by politicians, or explaining large bonuses, or under the spotlight at shareholder meetings or press conferences.

In this visual trends report we will be looking at how banks and financial services are using more imagery of women, targeting them as consumers, but also because they play into a broader brand message. We will also be looking at different notions of wealth emerging, and at the renewed focus on communications to small businesses as an engine to drive us out of recession. The imagery we will be exploring sits around the theme of  value. There is an underlying crisis around value in economies hit by the financial crisis - the social-contract which always implied that our children would be better off than we are is perceived as no longer being true. 

Value – the belief that there is something substantial underpinning our transactions, that the cash in our hands has some physical reference point in the world – has been thoroughly shaken.  And this profound crisis of belief in money is shaping big image trends such as the desire for authenticity, realism and visual storytelling, which are being played out in the financial services sector.

Click here to browse our topselling financial services creative imagery and footage

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