Danske Bank's Occupy video – a PR lesson for banks?

By:
Euromoney Skew, Sid Verma
Published on:

Danske Bank's new marketing campagin, titled "A new normal demands new standards", is a high risk PR strategy, promoting an ethical business ethos. Will other banks follow suit?

For a lesson on how apparently media-savvy banks could appropriate at least the language of corporate responsibility and community outreach, you could do a lot worse than watch this hipster marketing video from Danske Bank.

Replete with scenes of Occupy protests, smooching lesbians and break-dancing, the video, titled "A new normal demands new standards", is an entertaining watch, especially if Danske's banking counterparts follow suit with a PR strategy centred on business ethics:

And here's the PR pitch:

“The strategy is intended to restore trust in the bank and ensure that we live up to our new vision of being 'recognised as the most trusted financial partner'. To reach that objective, we must set new standards for banking operations.” 

The Danish institution, which says it won't repay its state loan until 2014, is by far one of the best well-known Danish brands. However, its domestic and international reputation has, like most western institutions in the known universe, been tarnished by the global financial crisis.

The 'new standards' campaign – which is centred on customer interaction, transparency and financial strength, as well as responsibility – has been accused of disingenuously touting the bank's virtues as a corporate citizen. The snarky curator of viral videos BuzzFeed has, perhaps unsurprisingly, described the ad as "shameless", charging that the video lacks real empathy, signals no material change in the bank's strategy and, instead, relies on a hip, stylized aesthetic: 

“It would – maybe – feel less hyper-hypocritical if Danske presented some evidence in this TV ad that it is not like every other financial behemoth in the world, or that it was taking extraordinary measures to combat climate change or substandard factory conditions or unequal pay for women.

"Because, right now, it just looks like Danske has done nothing but make a pretty, outrageously meaningless commercial.” 

Aesthetically, the video is a nod to humanistic imagery, like many stylized phone or car ads, featuring generic vehicles for a spectrum of emotions: outrage (the rioters), triumph-over-adversity (disability), sexuality (Benetton-ad-like lesbians kissing), and empathy (an array of smiling faces). In the Twitterverse, the views are, at best, mixed:

The video – which seeks to elevate corporate responsibility to an operational pillar of Danske's strategy – is a high-risk PR strategy since it crowd-sources public opinion on their views of the bank's business ethos. In response to the video, Adland, a Nordic community weblog, has already pointed out the bank has closed branches in small towns, cut back lending to small and medium-sized businesses, lacks female representation on its board, and is still blamed for its role in the housing crisis.

Nevertheless, no publicity is bad publicity, as the old adage goes, and the video has already notched around 32,000 views since its November 15 launch. So far, other banks have largely refrained from a face-value marketing campaign, centred on business ethics, instead focusing on community outreach, such as BNP Paribas' “For a changing world” and BBVA's “Friends and family”  campaigns. 

Expect more debate on the issue of banks and corporate 'sin' in the coming months, a new call-to-arms by Justin Welby, the next Archbishop of Canterbury. 

Still, if you never buy into an ethos, you never really sell out – a lesson Standard Chartered has painfully learned when it provoked public ire for the recent Iran scandal, despite promoting its whiter-than-white corporate culture in recent years.