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Westpac shows why emotion on its own isn’t enough

September 2021

Westpac, one of Australia’s “Big 4” banks, is well-versed in the art of emotion and storytelling. Together with their creative agency, DDB Sydney, the bank has launched a number of high-profile campaigns over recent years – including "Helping Hand", “Bereavement”, and “Separation”.

More recently, both the Australian and New Zealand arms of the business launched new campaigns – the latter produced by DDB Aotearoa. While each attempted to convey similar ideas around the bank being a partner with you in life, their creative approaches varied greatly.

The Australian campaign, ‘Life is Eventful’, was part of a broader refresh of the 200-year-old bank, highlighting all of life’s trials and tribulations, and how Westpac is there for you when you need them. New Zealand’s ‘Together Greater’ also attempted to show that the bank has your back – through a mythical creature looking out for a little girl who’s being bullied.

While an undoubtably warm and sentimental story, is this enough on its own for the ad to work? We put both to the test using the 3 C’s:

  • Captivate: Does it stand out and grab attention?
  • Connect: Does it instantly recall the brand?
  • Compel: Does it motivate behavioral change?

Captivate

‘Life is Eventful’ was highly distinctive and engaging with its depiction of life’s ups and downs, and twists and turns – taking viewers on an emotional rollercoaster. People thoroughly enjoyed the relatability of the different stories featured, leaving them feeling uplifted and inspired.

‘Together Greater’ and its child-meets-mythical-creature epic also grabbed people’s attention, drawing comparisons to “Where the Wild Things Are”. While the stunningly beautiful rendition of “Stand By Me” gave people the feels, the fantastical narrative struggled to match the same emotional heights – hampered by confusion around what the heart-warming story was attempting to say about Westpac.

Westpac Banking Ad Testing - Captivate

 

Connect

The key challenge which faced both ads, particularly ‘Together Greater’, was the tenuous connection to Westpac. ‘Together Greater’s challenges were exacerbated by it being devoid of any cues related to the financial services sector. While some found the sentimental tone somewhat in-line with Westpac’s previous work, the majority couldn’t work out what the bank’s role was in facilitating the outcomes depicted – literally or metaphorically.

Westpac’s iconic Search & Rescue Helicopter was featured in ‘Life is Eventful’, leveraging a strong brand asset without artificially forcing it into the story. While there’s no doubt brand ambassadors take time to bed-in – and branding will often be softer in the interim as a result – they’re most effective when their significance as a character relates in some way to the intended message (e.g. The meerkats for Compare the Market being Russian, and many eastern Europeans pronouncing ‘market’ as ‘meerkat’).

This isn’t to say that ambassadors can’t be made to work in other ways; however, this tends to be a lengthier, more expensive, and difficult undertaking.

Westpac Banking - Brand Campaign Ad Testing - Connect


Compel

When confusion relates to the brand’s role in the story, advertising often struggles to impart a meaningful impression. More than half of viewers were left confused about what the mystical storyline of ‘Together Greater’ was trying to say. While some intuited that Westpac was caring and supportive, it was unclear if the friendly giant was intended to represent the brand, or how the idea of being ‘Greater Together’ fitted with the little girl bringing in “muscle” to intimidate the bullies – and then consequently becoming their friend…or not? We actually have no idea…

In comparison, the inspirational, heart-warming, and sometimes tragic imagery featured in ‘Life is Eventful’ was interpreted as Westpac being there for everyone – no matter your life stage or circumstances.

Westpac Banking - Australia and New Zealand Ad Testing - Compel


What’s the learning for marketers?

While storytelling and emotion are essential ingredients for effective advertising, they’re of little material significance if people are confused about what the ad’s trying to tell them about the brand. Advertising’s effects are largely derived from how people are left feeling at its conclusion; therefore, when unclear about how it’s all supposed to come together and what it’s intended to say, the end result is boredom, frustration, and sometimes anger.

The financial services sector is often derided for its messaging being overly functional and uninspired, but that doesn’t simply mean “emotion” is the answer in itself – as some might have you believe. Emotion provides an opportunity to get into people’s mental headspace – from there you have a platform for imparting desired associations, ideas, and feelings about the brand. If the brand’s role in facilitating the outcomes depicted is ambiguous and unclear, whether the strategy is emotional or not is inconsequential – the brand impact will be muted.

Westpac Banking - Brand Campaign Advertising Testing - Performance Summary

This is a self-funded case study using our Ad Testing solution.

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