BofA Pitches ‘Simple, Clear’ Banking

Bank of America is breaking a campaign aimed at rebuilding consumer trust.

The $40 million ad effort excludes financial lingo and other esoteric banking terms unknown to consumers. Instead, the bank, which earlier this month broke a campaign for its Merrill Lynch Wealth Management group, is using a series of spots with “simple, clear and direct” messaging to repair its relationship with consumers, BofA executives said.

The goal of the campaign is to present BofA’s different products, and then show how they can help, the bank said. An ad for mobile alerts, for instance, shows how easy it is to retrieve one’s account balance anytime, anywhere. (Consumer Melissa gets an alert for a low-balance threshold on her cell phone.) Another ad for Power Rewards (“cash back the way you want”) has consumer Bert demonstrating how easy it is to earn money back while filling up his car at the gas pump. (He swipes his BankAmericard Power Rewards Visa credit card, presses his selection, leans back and waits.) And Martin, an espresso/coffee-loving consumer, simply swipes his debit card while simultaneously racking up savings in a spot touting BofA’s “Keep the Change” service. BBDO New York, an Omnicom agency, handled creative duties.

Jim Buchanan, BofA’s svp, consumer marketing, said the insight for the campaign came from research that showed that consumers were seeking “clarity” in today’s turbulent market. Consumers, he said, were shifting away from “the big national stories around TARP [the government’s Troubled Asset Relief Program bank bailout] and [stories about bank] nationalization, and really [focusing on] how our products and services can help them get through this difficult economy and back on their feet, and in many places, stay in their homes.”

In its research, the bank also found that 7 in 10 consumers and the majority of BofA’s customers (75 percent) expressed a need to cut back on spending. Sixty-five percent also said they found ways to save when spending, and 40 percent are saving more than they did three months ago.

Buchanan said the campaign takes a cut-to-the-chase approach because consumers “want you to be particularly clear, direct and just get to the point. No hidden messages,” he said of the campaign’s final direction. “Just tell me what it can do for me, what it costs and how I can use it,” he added.

BofA’s focus on efficiency and transparency comes at a difficult time for the banking industry. Last week, the government’s specially appointed “pay czar,” Kenneth Feinberg, slashed the pay of top-earning Wall Street executives at several of the nation’s top financial firms that had received taxpayer bailout money, including BofA, Citigroup and American International Group.

Scott Morgan, who heads up Brunner, a Pittsburgh advertising agency that has the American Bankers Association among its clients, said BofA’s move is indicative of a turning point in the recession. “There is still a lot of turbulence going on, and I don’t think it’s over yet. But they’re cuing in on some kind of consumer confidence and optimism that says, ‘Let’s get back to where things were,'” Morgan said.

But BofA spots are rather generic — educational, almost — in showing consumers how to use its products. “It reminded me of when [banks] first tried to get consumers to use ATMs back in the day or [online] banking,” Morgan said, adding that “any of the big boys” — Citigroup, JP Morgan Chase and others — could just as easily slap their names on the ads.

Buchanan, nonetheless, is confident the campaign will resonate with consumers. BofA has already pared the language of its home loans, which has fared well with consumers. Buchanan cited a “dramatic improvement in perception for that particular brand.”