Dear Mr Banker…
NatWest bank recently launched ‘A woman’s worth’ campaign designed to tackle “the enduring impact of a culture that has made women feel ignored and patronised”. In case you haven’t seen it, it included a bunch of flowers and a letter of apology to “all women” from “Mr Banker”. This, alongside the ‘pledge from NatWest’, was printed in Stylist Magazine, and was handed out by ‘bankers’ in suits and bowler hats. The stunt has certainly created a stir.
The campaign has been dubbed as having the very same patronising tone that it is meant to be apologising for and, from my perspective, unfortunately almost feels like a mockery. NatWest promise “to lead the change in the way banks talk to women”, when in a few sentences prior, uses language that illustrates the belittled female stereotypes they claim to be trying to apologise to. “We will help answer your questions and calm your fears”. The bowler-hatted “bankers” were a tongue-in-cheek reference to characters past, but I wonder if this was clear enough. Acting out these typecasts has only served to remind us of them. The style and tone adopted by NatWest for this campaign have left them open to criticism, particularly from the section of society who quite deservedly already feel financially savvy.
However, the campaign does come from a good place; the finance industry remains relatively traditional. Until the Sex Discrimination Act of 1975, banks could refuse to give women mortgages without a male guarantor. Recent YouGov research that suggests that a greater percentage of women do feel less confident and knowledgeable than men when it comes to investing for our futures. And, at the extreme end of the scale, with the financially uneducated being more vulnerable to domestic abuse, equal economic education is crucial. NatWest could and should be praised for their contribution to changing stereotypes in this industry. This should be something we, no matter our circumstances, recognise to be of value to society. Unfortunately, I personally feel that this ‘campaign’ could have been executed so much more elegantly.
So, what would my advice to Natwest be in light of the criticism they received?
Demonstrate genuine empathy
Nike’s ‘Dream Crazier’ campaign, is an excellent example of female empowerment in an industry familiar with gender inequality and debate; sport. The ad, like the NatWest campaign, highlights the limitations and criticisms faced by women, however, rather than positioning from an old-fashioned male perspective and risking alienating the audience, the story is told from a female perspective. The sentiment is clearly demonstrated; while the female voice over (Serena Williams) reminds us of the language used to negatively stereotype women, the showreel spotlights female athletes breaking barriers. The message of desired equality and empowerment is clear.
Of course, this subject matter lends itself better to visual representation of female achievement highlighting the ridiculousness of inequality. However, what, crucially, has been considered here is audience perception. The story is told from a position of genuine understanding which is clearly demonstrated to the viewer. The language used is inclusive and empowering; “us” instead of “you”. As a result, the message is powerful, unambiguous and tonally appropriate.
Focus on the future
It’s difficult to believe in your brave new world when you show us a character that looks like he’s stepped off a Mary Poppins film set. Consider the recent Royal Air Force ‘No room for clichés’ advert which had a relevant and significant impact. Their aim, to breakdown female stereotypes was successfully achieved by the juxtaposition of voicing over classic female advertising clichés with images of women performing various RAF roles. When “I want a lipgloss that will stay on”, is voiced over a female soldier in full camouflage aiming a weapon, the effect is powerful. The vision is of a future where the clichés are stamped out, positively shifting perceptions of the RAF. By showing us, rather than just telling us what the brand stands for, the campaign lands a far stronger message.
So, Dear Mr Banker, Please do better. We would love to hear from you again but I urge you to focus more on the words, the tone, the imagery you use. If you want to truly win our hearts and minds; you need to truly understand what motivates us – what makes us tick. Understand the voices that resonate, the language to use, and which images strike a chord. Show us you’re different, show us you’re changing and show us a future we want to be a part of.