Radhika Joshi
Oct 09, 2010

Why old habits need to die in public sector banks

Rajesh Pant is an ITES worker with some experience in Advertising

Why old habits need to die in public sector banks

My introduction to PSB (Public Sector Banks) advertising was rude. Trailing a BEST bus many decades ago, my B-school companion dug into my ribs and mockingly referred to my chosen profession (advertising) pointing to the rear panel which announced "Stop Banging and start banking". I cannot hazard a guess which bank it was - except I may just be right. Not much has changed over the years. And there by hangs a tale.

Cut to PSBs carry a heavy burden. They are instruments of state policy, especially its vagaries, and have to meet stringent commercial targets. Burdened with social obligations, yet they have very fine operations, yet they have very fine operational systems in place.  They have some of the finest and the brightest minds in banking working for exceptionally low wages. Laggards at IT adoption then like all PSB systems, once they have adopted they roll along sweetly. They have changed from old tokens to computerized pass books; and they manage folksy rural branches as well as swank urban HNI centers.

Cut back to: So why spend hard earned money on such pathetic displays of public communication? Let's find out the culprit or culprits!

All PSBs have Ad depaarments, I repeat depaarments. These are populated by mind-level Manager; a brace of Assistant Managers since you can't have a Manager without at least two direct underlings. One typist-cum-filing clerk and one office boy! They are responsible for activities ranging from printing visiting cards to approving advertising bills for payment. Not for the Advertising / Communication. That is in hands of the burra sahibs. And for that they have a guidance constitution from their masters.

Some written: 

  • Thou must choose new agencies every two years.
  • Thou must have multiple consorts. 
  • They must pitch for your affection every time.
  • These temporary favorites will be the cheapest ones.

Then some unwritten:

  • You must change your ad campaign as many times as possible.
  • Ensure fresh ideas are entertained; fresher the better; even if they have no bearing on previous ideas.
  • People - including families and friends can contribute to ideas. From anywhere; and if they happen to be near and dear to the Chairman/ED so much the better!

At this stage we remove our collective smirks and find this colossal waste is actually a stab at the foot of the Advertising industry. People exposed to this miasma point fingers at the industry because the layperson (what an endearing term) knows that as people produce ads! No one blames Bankers.

Take a recent case. Very respectable PSB takes on the mantle of "India's International Bank." Now compare this with 'Good people to bank with', 'Honors your trust', 'Relationship beyond banking', 'Because your dreams are not yours alone' etc. They very cleverly played on the strength of having the largest number of overseas branches; and OK, even if they didn't, they simply grabbed an open position and occupied it. People trust Banks which have some stamps of international'. This PSB also changed its century old logo.

What they did not change was their century old habit of changing communication. The 'international' was quickly relegated to the baseline and the ads then talked about 'state of the art, straight from the heart'- no doubt punned by some other equally airy stuff and no doubt will be continue; with 'India's International Bank' lurking under the Bank name till it is cast out.

The Agency system is responsible for this state of affairs. Very few agency statesmen spend time with PSB chairmen explaining the need for consistency. They cannot because they are only sighted at the pitch and first presentation; never again. And they have reason to keep concocting lines- because none of them have the guts to tell the PSB Chairman to rerun last year's successful campaign again and again till it is juiced out! Because that advice may result in his agency's instant ouster from the pitch.

Net net- it's that one professional leap that PSBs need to take. Their communication must become consistent year in and year out. Change is not always beneficial. They must understand that each brand is different and can serve their Corporate needs better if they start carving distinct identities. This will not come by merely changing logos and symbols and advertising campaigns. It will come from consistent customer facing service and consistent customer facing communication.

Only then will they stop banging and start banking!

Campaign India