How BofA Juggled 9 Shops, Single Message

Case Study: Working With Omnicom, Bank Integrates 'Opportunity'

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Anne Finucane took over as CMO of Bank of America with a big task -- completely reposition the industry leader's consumer, credit-card and private-banking businesses -- and do it in less than 12 months.
Anne Finucane
Anne Finucane, Bank of America CMO

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"Lessons Learned From BofA CMO Anne Finucane"

The challenge was made all the bigger by the fact that there's no real consensus on how to implement massive integrated campaigns. With no clear model, some marketers have reached out to myriad shops and networks. While others have tapped single profit-and-loss shops that claim to integrate all disciplines under one roof, BofA had opted to go a sort of hybrid route, using myriad shops all from one holding company, Omincom Group, even before Ms. Finucane arrived.

That left her to pull off a seamless strategy with the help of several dozen executives from the bank's 500-employee marketing department and 75 executives from nine geographically scattered Omnicom agencies all working on the $600 million marketing account.

Growth triggered repositioning
Charlotte, N.C.-based BofA had leapfrogged its competition through acquisition in recent years, buying MBNA, the largest credit-card issuer in the U.S., and private bank U.S. Trust. Ms. Finucane herself had come to BofA when it purchased her former employer, Fleet Bank.

But by early 2006, the bank's rapid growth demanded a repositioning. Research showed BofA had high brand awareness, but consideration was flat, and current customers' willingness to refer others to the bank was inconsistent. "We'd had enormous success under [the former campaign] 'Higher Standards,'" said Ms. Finucane, noting that the tagline suited the cultural mood during a post-Enron, post-WorldCom era. "But when I came in, we had these leading positions we'd not held before, and we needed to express our value to customers in a more direct way. Rather than focus on how we'll behave, through higher standards, we needed to reflect what they need: opportunities."

The agency setup was selected by her predecessor in August 2005 and inherited by Ms. Finucane, who wasted no time in tapping Susan Smith-Ellis, exec VP at Omnicom Group, to lead the Omnicom agencies as sort of general contractor. Ms. Finucane and Ms. Smith-Ellis worked at Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopulos together in Boston during the 1980s.

Paris Hilton, Bono as 'inspiration'
The pair rolled up their sleeves last spring to craft the architecture of the repositioning project. Executives from the marketer and agency flew in from Boston, New York or Charlotte every two weeks, working toward a launch date of Feb. 22, as TV ads were planned to air on the Academy Awards. To keep far-flung colleagues on strategy, Group Director of Account Planning Charise Mita created three "inspiration rooms" in New York, Boston and Charlotte, and filled each with various mementos. Pictures of Paris Hilton and YouTube reflected the nation's self-absorption, while shots of Oprah in Africa or Bono's efforts to fight AIDS, showed its search for meaning. Those cultural snapshots were pinned next to competitors' ads, as well as financial-news headlines, with the intent of bringing to life the zeitgeist that had to be understood. "It was a mammoth effort," Ms. Finucane said.

That was particularly true for Ms. Smith-Ellis, who had work arriving on her desk from nine different companies at different times with different goals. Realizing she needed someone who could ensure a consistent look and feel to all the work -- and do it not at the project's end but while it was progressing -- she reached out to Omnicom's Siegel & Gale and its chief creative director in New York, Howard Belk. Mr. Belk "wouldn't blanch at flying the plane while building it," she said.

Ensuring continuity of message
Early on, Mr. Belk met with of the 75 or so top Omnicom executives involved with BofA's business and explained his role. "I was most afraid of being caught in the middle of all of these agencies," he said. His team "were responsible for continuity."

Throughout the months leading to the launch, Seigel & Gale never created an ad, a brochure or a web page. "We looked at everything and made suggestions on how to unify it," Mr. Belk said. The focus was wide -- approving less red and more blue in retail centers, and putting the brakes on a suggestion to use typefaces similar to those in the Declaration of Independence or the U.S. Constitution. "Though beautiful, it's just not very readable," he said. "It's not good for the amount of time people have."

BBDO took the creative lead, using customer focus as the theme. Long an admirer of both BBDO and of its North American creative chief David Lubars, Ms. Finucane was convinced that "David would bring a fresh, creative look at how to express that we see what our customers see." As with Ms. Smith-Ellis, Mr. Lubars, also had a link to Ms. Finucane's past. About 20 years ago, when she was a creative manager at Hill Holliday, Ms. Finucane had twice attempted to recruit Mr. Lubars without success. "My first thought when we won BofA in August 2005," said Mr. Lubars, now with tongue in cheek, "is that it was in the stars that we'd work together."

Of the many ideas BBDO developed was to build on to characteristics such as honesty and straightforwardness to position the bank as can-do and innovative. The result was "Bank of Opportunity," a theme that differentiated BofA from competitors, tested as a believable claim from a consumer perspective, and was a sufficiently broad concept to work across all the bank's businesses.

Wait and see
Once "Bank of Opportunity" was approved, Fiona Carter, exec VP-integration director and right hand to Ms. Smith Ellis, aligned several shops (online agency Organic, events firm GMR, public-relations company Emanate, media planner Prometheus, digital network Tribal DDB) of the nine other Omnicom agencies to each be part of the program. Additional units, including Rapp & Collins, TPN, and Radiate, came in later.

Since the first wave of the Bank of Opportunity campaign broke a little more than a month ago, meetings have been scaled back from every two weeks to every three weeks. Mr. Belk's team at Siegel & Gale reviews all work. BofA, which spent $230 million of its total $600 million marketing budget in measured media last year according to TNS, intends to increase spending this year.

Jefferson Harralson, bank analyst at Keefe Bruyette & Woods in Atlanta, applauds the customer-focused marketing theme but also argues that the bank should keep close watch on customer service. "If they want to expand the amount of business they do with each customer, execution is more important than TV or radio spots."
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