The last time we saw this strategy-portraying a financial-services institution as the antidote to the worrisome complexity of the financial world-was First Union's extravagant campaign from Publicis & Hal Riney, featuring millions of dollars worth of CGI from Industrial Light & Magic. That was memorable.
Like an optical migraine is memorable.
The surreal carnival-midway setting, with its assorted chislers and freaks, was far creepier and more frightening than, say, applying for a home-equity loan, or buying a CD or any of the other ostensibly scary transactions of the fearsome financial funhouse. But then, representing First Union was a vast, looming, monolithic skyscraper-which was scarier still.
We cannot prove cause and effect, but it's useful to observe that, when the campaign broke, the company's shares sold for $70. When it finally killed the thing, the stock price was $30. On the basis of market capitalization, arguably, this campaign cost shareholders $36 billion.
And First Union is now Wachovia.
So now comes ING, the Dutch banking-brokerage-insurance giant, also trying to present the dizzying complexity of the financial sphere as the problem, and the vast scope of the advertiser as the solution. It, too, juxtaposes calm with chaos, and it, too, relies heavily on second effects.
But does it take its place next to First Union, in some inner circle of Advertising Hell?
Nah. It's just fine.
While some of the production comes up a little wanting (the writing, casting, acting, editing and special effects are all just slightly off), the message comes shining through: simplify, simplify.
ING bills this work from BBDO, Atlanta, as a new U.S. branding campaign. Maybe, but it really is an extension of imagery from the predecessor agency, (Jordan McGrath Case & Partners). In the TV spots, half of the action takes place on a logo-emblazoned park bench, where someone sits in front of whatever letters precede ING. Only later do we realize those letters constitute the whole logo. The gimmick was originally conceived to confront the oddness of the brand name. But now the bench has been promoted to the central brand metaphor, to wit: Just sit and relax. We have all your financial affairs under control.
The carefree bench-sitting is compared to what goes on behind the scenes: in one spot, an elaborate Rube Goldberg device which clatters and steams in fanciful complexity all to pour a cup of coffee, and in the other a couple tossed every which way in a winter squall-which turns out to be the inside of a snow globe.
Yes, those disorienting environments perform in these ads exactly the function the carny midway performed in First Union's, provoking our visceral fear of financial complexities we cannot understand, much less control. The difference is that ING's bench, unlike First Union's towering edifice, suggests peace of mind.
Another big plus for this campaign is to embrace the color orange, which itself makes this brand jump out in its category. It's a confident expression of personality, minus any sense of flightiness.
Pity that the execution has so many niggling flaws. The acting and direction are especially unimpressive. In a shoot for 30-second commercial, you should be able to capture just the right take. But none ever appears here-including the kicker in the coffee-machine spot. After the cockamamie gizmo produces the lady's mug of java, the guy on the park bench says to her "Muffin?" This is supposed to extend the punchline, but his delivery is so weirdly inflected the line just hangs there
Which is annoyING, but, mercifully, not terrifyING.
Review: 2.5 stars