Friday, March 14, 2008
What's in your wallet?
Geez, I take one month off blogging, and the world goes to hell in a handcart. Bad enough that my dream of finally getting that Dyson vacuum cleaner must now be postponed so I can afford to put gas in the Brandcowboymobile. Now, we’ve got world financial markets in turmoil, governments desperately propping up their currencies and fending off recession, financial institutions teetering on the verge of collapse and the very future of our monetary system in question, all because of the irresponsible marketing practices of lending institutions. Apparently, the apocalypse is nigh because Biff and Muffy just had to have that patio furniture right now.
I want to help. I really do. So, as a service to misunderstood credit card marketers everywhere, I’ve done a little ‘best practices’ audit of a similar product category to see if they’re really as bad as the media are making them out to be. It didn’t take long to identify a model to study, either. Let’s see… a product you can carry in your pocket, that’s useful in certain specific circumstances but that not everybody should be trusted with, and which, if abused, can be life-alteringly dangerous. Bingo: Guns! The perfect analog. Dirty Harry’s .44 magnum and that credit card offer that was in your mailbox this morning are not really all that different, other than that with the former you could hold up a gas station, whereas the reverse is more likely with the latter.
To facilitate this analysis, I have carefully selected two brands: Capital One (esteemed purveyor of unsecured credit) and Smith & Wesson (esteemed purveyor of the aforementioned peacemaker). At first, I fear the experiment will fail because the similarities are so striking.
For example, both brands are a bit circumlocutory about what business they’re in. Capital One says, “Our business is helping customers, so what's important to them is important to us. Our commitment to our customers motivates us to stay in close touch with their financial needs and concerns,” before they mention the ‘C’ word. Smith & Wesson says, “Smith & Wesson is one of the world's most recognizable brands, and for good reason. Since we first opened our doors, we have focused on designing and manufacturing innovative solutions that are unparalleled in the field of personal safety and protection.” Hmmm…
Also, both brands are similarly eager to help you match their products to your personal needs. Completing the handy questionnaires on both web sites, I learn that my life would be improved by a Platinum Cash Back MasterCard and an M&P.40 with 15 rounds in the clip and one in the chamber.
Eventually, though, moral leadership emerges and one brand sets an example: Smith & Wesson, in addition to selling gun vaults and protective equipment, would like you to be trained in the use of their product. It’s right there on the home page. Go to the training site, and you will see serious-looking people with glasses and earmuffs, shooting at things with both hands. It doesn’t get any safer than that, kids. Meanwhile, I click on the ‘How Credit Works’ button over at Capital One, hoping that it says something like, ‘try not to spend money you don’t really have, or you will destroy our way of life.’ Instead, it says, “Credit is convenient and offers benefits cash doesn’t.”
I’m pretty libertarian about most things branding. But I have to say, I think there are some businesses where the marketer simply can’t sit back and pretend that they bear no responsibility for how their products affect the lives of the people who buy them. Brands still have some authority, even if it’s sometimes convenient to pretend otherwise, and this is nowhere truer than with financial institutions. If a bank says I’m good for the money, I feel like they are speaking from their experience with these things. I think their judgment might even be better than mine. If they say I can handle it, maybe I can. If they don’t say credit is dangerous if abused, then maybe it isn’t. If they seem happy enough to give me more when I use up what I’ve got, then maybe I deserve it. Everywhere else in marketing, dangerous products are sold as such, from cigarettes to motorcycles to Harry’s piece. But credit seems to be sold by many financial institutions with the same level of corporate conscience you might find in a crack dealer.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. “Did he fire six shots, or only five?” But it doesn’t really matter, does it. Fifteen in the clip and one in the chamber, baby.
P.S. Apologies for the especially long hiatus between posts, and I wish I could say it won’t happen again. But, you see, Brand Cowboy is working on his first book, and you wouldn’t believe how many words you need for one of those. It’s about an awesome brand, and will be in bookstores across North America this fall. All I can say for now, but stay tuned.