Midland's banking on it

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Midland Bank is changing its spots. Or, to be more accurate, its logo. Out goes the familiar golden griffin on navy blue; in comes a hexagonal symbol in red on white. What better time, then, to spend pounds 20m on a rebranding campaign?

Midland's new advertising strategy broke last week with a return to its old "listening bank" theme, made familiar by successive campaigns throughout the Seventies and Eighties. However, the tone and style of Midland's new TV ads is unlike anything the bank has ever done before.

Three new commercials, created by the advertising agency St Luke's, parody action adventure movies in the tradition of Mission Impossible. Bank staff are seen risking life and limb - diving out of planes and into water, scrambling along the top of trains - to respond to customers' demands.

Each ad starts with a complaint overheard by a Midland employee who - after high drama and derring-do - deals with it. It's a far cry from Midland's last campaign, which featured everyday people singing along their hopes and fears to familiar pop tunes.

While the old campaign successfully conveyed the emotional values of the Midland brand, it did not go far enough in selling Midland as an active "doer", Peter Godfrey, the general marketing manager for Midland Bank, explains.

A rethink was called for. And after detailed consultation with bank staff and customers, a radical new approach was agreed.

"We decided to focus on what customers really want: a very simple product which they can easily understand. In financial services, the majority of advertising is warm and empathetic. Midland's approach has moved on - to become more action oriented. In essence, if the customer asks for something, within reason - we'll do it."

It's a grand claim. And one that Godfrey is in no doubt the bank will be able to honour. For the new advertising approach has come from a root- and-branch review of services, he explains. "We have listened to customer complaints and addressed them, changing products where necessary and adding services."

Midland hopes its new approach will both build loyalty amongst existing customers, and lure new business away from rivals. The bank is currently the fourth biggest in the UK, with 4.5 million current account holders - a total of 7.8 million customers when other services are added in.

"It's an attempt to move away from the perceived complacency associated with banks in the past," says Neil Henderson, account director at St Luke's. "The listening bank is a tremendous positioning in the market, but one that has not been to the fore in recent campaigns. While the last one did a wonderful job in making Midland personal at a time when others appeared pompous, the new campaign is a declaration that Midland has moved on."

Undoubtedly, a simplified and impactful approach seems the best strategy for financial services battling to win consumers who are easily bored and confused by their wares, and facing new competition from the self- proclaimed kings of Nineties service culture: the supermarkets.

But will Midland's grand new scheme be complicated by its simultaneous rebranding strategy? The timing of the two is coincidental rather than planned. The rebranding was instigated by Midland's parent, the banking and financial services giant HSBC, to harmonise its operations in 75 countries around the world.

Godfrey, however, denies that dropping the griffin in favour of a red and white hexagon represents much of a risk. "So far, we've had very little customer response at all," he claims. "Besides, it offers a welcome opportunity to draw a line under the old and bring in the new."

What effect the strategy will have remains to be seen. Immediate reaction from Midland customers is muted, as Godfrey suggests. "It's all very exciting, but I'm not sure how all of this directly relates to me," said one retired customer from south London. "When that becomes clear, I'll make my mind up."

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