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Putting Lipstick on a Pig?

Last Thursday the following Advertising Age News Alerts message landed in my email inbox.  The headline reads:  “Bank of America Moves Brand Advertising From BBDO to WPP.  Holding Company Team Will Roll Out New Strategic Positioning.”

The brief two-sentence alert reads:  “Bank of America has shifted brand advertising duties to a WPP team from Omnicom Group’s BBDO, according to two executives familiar with the matter.  WPP will be responsible for the rollout of what the company [BofA] was internally calling the development of a ‘North Star’ to help repair its tarnished image.


Doesn’t BofA mean trashed?

When I think of “tarnished” what comes to mind is a bit of dirt that’s easily removed.

BofA is dealing with Category 5 tornado damage here.

The first thought that entered my mind after reading the email is that WPP’s effort could turn out to be like applying lipstick to a pig.  I’ve also heard it as putting perfume on a pig.

Regardless of the beauty product being used, the odds are it will be an effort in futility.

Based on everything I’ve read about BofA over the past four-plus years, it needs much more than a new branding campaign.

Hardly a month goes by that I don’t encounter another article describing how BofA had to pay some huge fine for wrong-doing.  Leading the punitive fine race is the February 9, 2012 announcement of the $11.8 billion fine as part of the national fraudulent mortgage settlement with the states.

While $11.8 billion sounds like a ton of money, I don’t think it has nearly the consumer impact as being ranked #1 on the 2011 MSN Money-Zogby Customer Service Hall of Shame list.  BofA ranked #2 on the 2010 list.

For 2011, 39% of respondents ranked BofA’s banking service as “poor” while 41.4% ranked its credit card service as “poor.”

But, it gets much worse.

Are you familiar with the name Matt Taibbi?

Taibbi is a journalist and Contributing Editor for Rolling Stone.

The title of his March 14, 2012 Rolling Stones’ feature article is titled: “Bank of America: Too Crooked to Fail.”  It’s an excellent, well-researched article which you can read here.  It’s investigative journalism at its finest.

He wrote another article about Bank of America which he distributed at the Occupy Wall Street day of action on February 29, 2012.  It was posted on the truth-out.org website with the following headline:  “Matt Taibbi: Bank of America Is a ‘Raging Hurricane of Theft and Fraud.’”  You can read the article here.

Taibbi has a very strong following – especially in the financial services industry.

Given his detailed descriptions of Bank of America it’s hard to imagine a branding campaign being successful.

In fact, I can’t wait to read what Taibbi will someday write about Bank of America and its attempts to burnish its “tarnished” image via a new branding campaign.  I’m sure it’ll be brutal.

What I find very interesting is that over the past year or longer BofA has been spending millions of dollars on full-page ads in magazines and newspapers in an attempt to change peoples’ attitudes about the bank.

In fact, one such full-page ad appeared in the Sunday edition of The Sacramento Bee.  I’d love to show it here but it’s not possible to scan it on my scanner.  It measures roughly 34″ x 11 ½.”

The headline reads:  “WE’RE HARD AT WORK ON WHAT MATTERS MOST IN CALIFORNIA.”  The ads are mostly white-space with some data provided in boxes in the middle.  In this particular ad, the bank informs readers that it:

  • Loaned $1.27 billion in new credit to California small businesses in 2011.
  • Worked with 223,660 California homeowners facing financial difficulty since 2008, to modify their mortgages.
  • Contributed $24.6 million to California nonprofits in 2011.

Apparently these ads have failed to have a positive impact on the public as evidenced by the selection of WPP to roll-out yet another branding effort.

It’s possible that the folks at WPP have been handed an impossible assignment.

You can bet they’ve been spending lots of time reading and discussing Matt Taibbi’s articles about the bank.

I’m ending this rant with another favorite swine saying of mine:  The creative folks on the WPP team will have the impossible task of trying to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.

TagsAdvertising Ageapplying lipstick to a pigBank of America Moves Brand Advertising from BBDO to WPPBank of America: Too Crooked to Failbeauty productCaliforniacategory 5 tornadofraudulent mortgage settlementjournalistMatt TaibbiMSN Money-Zogby Customer Service Hall of Shamenew branding campaignOccupy Wall StreetOmnicom Group's BBDOputting perfume on a pigRolling StoneThe Sacramento Beewebsite