Damien Venuto: Changes afoot for big-money ASB and Kiwibank advertising accounts


Bank marketing is set for a big shakeup as the creative accounts of two of the five major banks move to new agencies.

This week a request for proposal from ASB confirmed that it was looking into what was on offer in the market.

While current agency Dentsu Creative was invited to participate in the pitch, the safe money would have to be on the account changing hands, given how notoriously difficult it is for an incumbent to hold onto an account that goes up for pitch.

This pitch will be for the full suite of creative services, ranging from brand communications, sponsorship and direct marketing through to digital and social media advertising.

However, the request for proposal (RFP) will not include the media or search aspects of ASB’s advertising.

Last year ASB was the second biggest advertising spender among the banks, surpassed only marginally by rival ANZ, with both spending more than $26 million.

BNZ and Westpac weren’t far behind, with Nielsen media spending stats showing the big four spent an accumulated $100m.

Given ASB’s decision to be transparent in its call for interest, the RFP will attract massive interest from the industry.

Every agency that doesn’t already have a decent finance client on its roster will be looking to get a slice of business out of the bank.

In recent years ASB has undergone a number of changes on the creative side of its marketing account.

In 2017 the bank parted ways with Saatchi & Saatchi after a five-year tenure, appointing With Collective (part of the Dentsu group) and New Zealand independent agency True.

True initially looked after the branding side of the account (around 30 per cent of the value), while With Collective was in charge of the digital side, which demanded constant customer communication.

A strategic review saw the bank drop True in mid-2019 and appoint With Collective as its sole creative and strategic agency.

The question now is whether ASB will return to the dual agency model or stick with a single agency taking charge of all aspects of its marketing.

Kiwibank on the move

In other banking news, the Herald understands the official appointment of Special Group as Kiwibank’s new agency of record is imminent.

Kiwibank would not confirm or deny the appointment, with a spokesperson revealing only that the bank was in “the process of securing a new creative agency partner”.

Special Group did not respond to a request for comment.

It’s understood the bank will make an official announcement soon.

This will mark the end of the short tenure of Clemenger-owned 99, which was appointed as Kiwibank’s lead strategic and creative partner in July 2019.

Adding further intrigue to the battle of the banks is the recent appointment of former With Collective boss John Marshall to the role of joint general manager at Special Group.

The With Collective agency was formed within the Dentsu advertising group specifically to service the ASB marketing account.

Dentsu recently retired the With Collective brand as part of a corporate restructure that also saw the end of the road for the iconic BC&F agency name.

Marshall will now be starting his new role next month.

Winning the Kiwibank account follows a strong patch for Special Group, which was recently awarded the Agency of the Year title on both sides of the Tasman by trade publication Campaign Brief.

The agency has also made a number of bold moves, last year launching into the US market and more recently unveiling a local specialist PR arm.

Despite the industry-wide impact of Covid-19, there’s a growing confidence at the local agency that it can take to the fight to the big international shops that have long dominated the scene.

Claiming the Kiwi banner

The appointment of a local agency comes at a critical time for Kiwibank.

News that Westpac is reviewing the future of its local arm means Kiwibank’s claim as the biggest New Zealand-owned bank could be under threat.

If Westpac did become a local bank, it would no doubt look to trumpet its Kiwiness to the local market. That would be a step into territory long occupied by Kiwibank.

The marketing challenge then would be for Kiwibank to ensure that it retains ownership of its position as New Zealand’s bank, despite Westpac’s best efforts.

These subtle branding cues are essential in an industry like banking, where the services offered by all companies are virtually indistinguishable. The only point of difference often comes down to what each provider represents in the mind of the customer.

This might seem somewhat tenuous, but subtle branding cues also underpin the difference between Apple and Samsung, Nike and Adidas, and Levi’s and Lee. All these companies sell products that do the same thing, but try telling that to the aficionados who queue for hours to get their hands on the latest release.

It’s unlikely that banking customers will be lining up to get their hands on the newest money management app, but you can rest assured that banks will continue pouring millions of dollars a year into their brand communications in the hope of attracting a few more customers.

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