BIG BANKS NEED BETTER BRANDS

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The megamergers remaking the financial services industry leave a challenge in their wake that will test marketing executives at the huge new companies that are emerging. They, and their top managements, need to end any confusion about strategy and embrace branding as a top imperative for the years ahead.

As an industry, banking organizations have marketed like car dealers: They use tactical ads that focus on specific products. Looking ahead, Banc One Corp., First Union, Bank of America, KeyCorp and others have begun extensive campaigns to position themselves as brands, and ad spending is expected to climb further. But the industry has so far to go.

"Branding is hot in banking right now," said Ken Stevens, CEO of Banc One's national retail group. Banc One stands to become the biggest player in the Midwest after its merger with First Chicago NBD Corp. "The brand is the sum total of a customer's exposure with you," he said. "It's more than a logo on the side of the stadium; the logo should tease you into thinking of the great experiences with the bank. And our industry has not been good at creating those great experiences."

Mr. Stevens faces establishing the Banc One brand in new markets. And among its other challenges: First Chicago's American National Bank unit had a sharply honed niche image as "the bank for business." That, too, will now be lost, and rivals smell opportunity.

It's going to be tricky terrain and bank marketers should be searching for guidance on how to maneuver. One thing is sure: Money, in the form of large ad budgets, won't insure success. Neither will simple bigness. These new companies must clearly emphasize a single message of differentiation; they must truly become a brand.

Silent giants: here are the giants?

It's a question often asked by those seeking the spiritual progeny of such legends as Bill Bernbach, Leo Burnett and David Ogilvy. Euro RSCG Tatham's Ralph Rydholm -- himself about to retire -- recently lamented the industry's "indistinct personalities" and asked, "Where have all the great characters in advertising gone?"

The answer, Ralph, is they're hiding in plain sight.

Advertising Age set out late last year to identify the modern-day agency giants, a months-long search involving conversations with dozens of top creatives and industry observers. It led us west, culminating in this week's story profiling four legends in their own time: Lee Clow, Dan Wieden, Jeff Goodby and Rich Silverstein. What they share with their predecessors is a passion for the work, an ability to continually raise the creative bar and change the way consumers, media and agencies view advertising's role.

They differ, though, in a key way. Yesterday's leaders gave speeches, wrote books and left behind pearls of wisdom that even now are oft-quoted sources of inspiration for young creatives. Today's leaders are silent giants. They not only won't write books, they rarely give media interviews. Dan Wieden declined being quoted in this week's story.

We understand the desire to let the work speak for itself. But with power comes responsibility. Today's leaders are doing a disservice to future generations when they refuse to share their philosophies, when they decline to offer a glimpse into the inner workings of the minds that produce the work that impacts an industry.

So we encourage today's leaders to leave behind not only their work as a legacy, but also a written record of their principles and philosophies to teach and inspire those who follow.

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