It’s award season in the Advertising and Design world and I was recently at a gala dedicated to recognizing the best creative work for the Financial Services industry. I’m happy to report that in the 3 categories that SBA entered we won 2 golds and 1 silver. It’s always wonderful to be recognized by your peers.
But as I was looking at all the award-winning work being featured that night, something struck me…an awful lot of it looked the same. Now don’t get me wrong, it was all beautifully executed, the art-direction was wonderful, the copy was thoughtful and well written. But the sameness was striking. I couldn’t tell the difference between firm A (an Asset Manager), firm B (an insurance company) or firm C (a private bank). The audiences who use financial products today are sophisticated and ever-changing consumers of adverting and marketing massages. Yet most to the creative I’ve seen recently could have been done 10 or 20 years ago and seems formulaic.
One possible reason for this is that financial products and services are heavily regulated and rightly so, after all this is people’s wealth we are dealing with. But that can also mean that the final say on an ad campaign or mobile app can be a compliance attorney and not a marketing professional. I have witnessed many times where truly creative and innovative campaigns have been shelved because “It’ll never get approved by compliance” or other great campaigns that have been so chipped away at and watered down by compliance review that they were no longer recognizable. It can also mean that marketing teams, Art directors, designers and copywriters self-edit and only produce work that they know will sail through the compliance review process.
So, what can be done to change this? One obvious solution is to have compliance personnel who have some form of marketing background or training and can at least try to view a campaign through that lens. Another is to have a set of guidelines developed by Compliance departments with the help of marketing professionals that can provide a framework that other marketing teams can work with. Lastly there needs to be much better dialogue between marketing teams and compliance teams. Compliance personnel should be part of the process. They should be brought in at the beginning, when the creative brief is being reviewed and they should be updated as campaigns are evolving and developing.
One if the biggest mistakes a marketing team can make is to underestimate the sophistication of its audience and to dumb down a message or creative because it must pass muster with compliance. You can have a huge media budget, but it’s useless if your creative doesn’t communicate in a compelling way and if you can’t stand out from your competitors. FINRA and compliance departments should not be the barrier to doing great, smart, and different work. We should all be working together to make financial marketing communications a better experience for the end user.