Mark Ritson on Branding: Barclays Odyssey Does Homer Proud

Article excerpt

Barclays is the Homer Simpson of the financial services world.

The bank appears set upon a recurring form of marketing behaviour. It develops an ambitious new brand positioning that seems good in theory, but goes horribly wrong. Like Homer, Barclays is left to recognise that it is its own worst enemy.

In 2001, the 'Big' campaign touted the advantages of size and scale just as Barclays was engaged in consolidating its rural branches. The result was a PR campaign to justify the need for fewer branches while simultaneously barraging us with 30-second spots trumpeting the bank's size. D'oh!

In 2002, Barclays repositioned itself as 'Fluent in finance'. Samuel L Jackson was the spokesman for the brand in a series of obtuse ads in which the bank attempted to communicate its expertise in all things financial. However, the ads were so confusing that the main conclusion to be drawn from the presence of a Hollywood superstar and spectacular production values was that the bank had spent millions on its ads. Barclays may have been trying to communicate that it was financially savvy, but the campaign presented it as big-spending. D'oh!

In 2003, Barclays chief executive Matthew Barrett appeared before a government committee to defend the high interest rates Barclaycard charged its customers. His 'defence' of the charges consisted of admitting that, personally, he avoided credit-card borrowing because it was 'too expensive' and he advised his four children to do the same. D'oh!

It was, therefore, with no little interest that I awaited the latest development in the Barclays branding saga. Jim Hytner, lured from ITV to take up the role of group marketing director, was now the man in the Homer suit. He started well, spending a long period analysing marketing research and existing core competence before coming up with the new positioning.

At a series of roadshows hosted by Barrett, the positioning was presented to more than 10,000 staff, who endorsed the strategy.

This month, Hytner finally unveiled the brand positioning, based around the 'Inventive spirit' of Barclays' staff. And he announced an extensive advertising campaign, drawn up by Bartle Bogle Hegarty, that would feature the strapline 'Now there's a thought', to 'highlight the good ideas and creative thought' that typify the Barclays brand. …