Goldman seeks to kill off the 'vampire squid' with advert campaign

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The Independent Online

Goldman Sachs has launched a dramatic advertising campaign in a bid to improve its image. The company, described in the aftermath of the financial crisis as "a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity", ran its first adverts yesterday, that seem designed to show that an investment bank renowned for its multi-billion dollar deals also loves the small business community.

The campaign is the work of Young & Rubicam, which is owned by the UK advertising giant WPP, and is aimed at overhauling public perceptions of the bank. The adverts carry the strapline "Progress is everyone's business". The group was also keen to promote its "10,000 Small Businesses" plan.

It talks of its $3bn investment in clean energy since 2006 and its $27bn worth of support for not-for-profit institutions, including schools and hospitals, over the past decade. "At Goldman Sachs, we help make progress happen," the adverts also say.

A spokesman for Goldman said: "The adverts are meant to reflect the work we do for clients and the effect on the economy as a whole." While he declined to comment on suggestions the group was trying to "PR wash" its image, he admitted some would see it that way.

The campaign is focused on the US, and the spokesman said the large-scale print and internet drive "is not something we have done often", adding: "It was necessary to explain our business."

Advertising experts said the move would be seen as an act of contrition. "Goldman Sachs has taken the first step in putting up its hand and saying: 'We fouled up'," said Tom Blackett, the chairman of branding group Siegel+Gale UK. "The company is trying to present itself as socially useful, but there is a mountain to climb – people will be fairly sceptical about the motives, but if they achieve what they've set out to, it will be extremely laudable."

Anthony Edwards, the communications planning director at marketing group Euro RSCG, said: "This marks a pretty dramatic shift. Goldman's old image was cold and macho. It was all about success and money. Now it is using the language of inclusion."

Mr Edwards said the bank was clearly trying to focus on its efforts at real-value creation and growth rather than "just shifting money around". He added: "It wants to show it is getting involved with all levels of society."

Criticism of the bank, seen by some as a "poster boy" for investment banking excess, intensified last year when Lloyd Blankfein, its chief executive, said the bank was doing "God's work" in an off-the-cuff remark.

Goldman settled a civil fraud lawsuit brought by the Securities and Exchange Commission in April and has been fined by the Financial Services Authority. "This is fairly pragmatic," Mr Edwards said, "Goldman Sachs was in the firing line."

Dave Roberts, the creative director of Fitch Design Consultants, said: "Goldman is trying to show a more human, more approachable image. The brand's logo is tiny, and instead they've brought forward the pictures of small business owners. Goldman is talking about communities and being a good corporate citizen. Two or three years ago, banks did not worry about this sort of thing."

Goldman is not the only bank to have revamped its image. Recently, German financial services group Deutsche Bank unveiled its new strapline "Passion to perform", accompanied by a video campaign on its website. The slogans of UBS, which advertised during Champions League football matches this week, is: "We will not rest," while rival Swiss group Credit Suisse's is "Working for your future".

What the experts think...

Tom Blackett, chairman, Siegel+Gale UK

"I like Goldman's new campaign. The idea that it 'brings people, capital and ideas together to help our clients and the communities we serve' is very laudable. To me, it is trying to position itself as 'socially useful'. This is an attempt to reverse the 'greed is good' image it acquired as a bulge bracket bank, as well as Lloyd Blankfein's 'doing God's work' quote. People will judge them on the evidence rather than the fine words and good intentions. It does, however, seem to be taking it seriously. The company says it has formed a business standards committee for corporate governance, and also mentions regulatory reform and risk management... We wait and see."

Jerry Della Femina, chief executive and chairman, Della Femina/Jeary

"It's like they're apologising for being bad boys," Mr Della Femina told Bloomberg. "The ad is too weak, too wimpy, too mealy-mouthed. The people who don't like them and the people who don't respect them are not going to have their opinion changed by looking at this – the people who do like them and respect them may see them as a bit diminished."

Dave Roberts, creative director, Fitch Design Consultants

Goldman Sachs wants to reposition itself as more approachable in the marketplace. The campaign is polished; it has clearly gone to an awful lot of effort. The branding is deep in look and feel, although it is a pretty vanilla approach. The tagline 'Progress is everyone's business' is not much of a differentiator. The other statements about being part of the community are more important. It gives more of an indication of what it believes and where it intends to go. It is important banks clean up their act, and they need to communicate that."