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Friend, Enemy or Ally?

Posted on August 16, 2011 and read 1,858 times

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jbp Friend, Enemy or Ally?Brent Pulford
Owner/Operator
Right Brain, Creative Communications

My favorite ads of the past few years have been those from Ally Bank. You know the ones with the kids and the oily pitchman who symbolizes competing banks, the guy who dangles a bike or pony or something equally enticing under the kid’s nose? The child enthusiastically bites only to be crushed to learn that the conditions on the offer means the pony is snatched away as quickly as it appeared. Brilliantly cast and flawlessly executed you can’t help but appreciate the genuine expressions of disappointment, anger and contempt registered by the kids who, for the first time in their lives, may be experiencing marketing double talk. I can’t think of a better way to illustrate a circumstance most consumers know all too well. But what really distinguishes these ads is Ally’s overt attack on other banks. There’s nothing subtle about the message: Most banks will lie to you, we don’t. Before I address the accuracy of that position I have to say, that as much as I admire Ally’s willingness to expose the trickery that is an all too common sales strategy among banks, I’m more than a little surprised they would take that tack. It’s classic glass house stuff and means Ally better be certain there are no skeletons in its closets or boardrooms because if there are somebody is going to find them and start hauling them out. Me, maybe. But first a tip of the hat to great advertising.

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For a little context lets take a look at the medical profession. When you consider how many doctors on any given day are treating patients either in their offices, at clinics or hospitals, maybe even at home, you have to believe the odds that something gets misdiagnosed, that wrong medication gets prescribed or that something goes wrong in the operating theater, are pretty high. In other words, over the course of a year, there are likely countless incidents that could be labeled medical malpractice. Yet the number of malpractice cases that ever see the light of day, let alone a courtroom, are remarkably few. One of the primary reasons for that is, the only people truly qualified to determine medical malpractice are other doctors. Brothers and sisters in a very elite fraternity. And that means doctors are loathe to participate in the prosecution of a brother or sister. Without putting too fine a point on it, doctors know what other doctors go through both to become doctors and to remain doctors. Nevertheless doctors are people too and as capable of making mistakes as anybody. And so it is with lawyers, teachers, athletes and so on. Despite recognizing a competitor’s shortcomings, most toiling on the same playing field aren’t likely to point the finger because to draw attention to shortcomings within an industry tends to denigrate the whole industry making life more difficult for everybody. So when the central theme of an advertising campaign is to draw attention not just to the lies competitors tell but to reveal an entire industry’s dirty little secret, the advertiser is taking a real risk. Unless of course they are absolutely certain of their moral superiority.

But what of Ally’s moral superiority? Well let’s start with full disclosure. There’s nothing in any of the ads that indicate that Ally is, in actuality, the former General Motors Acceptance Company – the lending arm of the nearly failed US car giant; that it is in business courtesy of a $3.8B bailout that taxpayers funded. That fact in and of itself isn’t necessarily damning. Most believe keeping the American auto industry alive was a good thing. And if teetering on the brink of bankruptcy taught the company some humility perhaps it did recognize the need to answer to a higher calling, to raise the bar. Since I don’t deal with Ally and have no first hand knowledge of their actual operating procedures, I visited mybanktracker.com. Here are two of the testimonials quickly found on the site’s review section.

“I authorized a $25,000 withdraw from my checking account to fund a new Ally CD. Ally did the withdraw…TWICE. There is $50,000 gone from my checking account without my authority. When I called them, they said “oops”; we will refund the money in 48 hours. 48 hours later, no money. When I spoke to customer service they said it would take 4-5 more business days to return the $25,000 to my account. This is CRIMINAL. Do NOT link your checking account to your ALLY account. In fact….STAY CLEAR of this bank. They are thieves. I just hope they return my money. I will update when I see the money in my account. Update…more than a week later, still no money in my account. So I went to my local bank and had them do a transfer back into my local checking account from Ally Bank using a “Written Statement of Unauthorized Debit” form. This form also severed ties with Ally and my local checking account. They are thieves, I repeat, STAY CLEAR of this bank.

“Here’s why I won’t do business with them.
– Errors are always in their favor.

– They only do the most cursory and incomplete accounting when you call them on errors. (In my case, they only went back two months, not to the third month where they would have found the $516 error in their favor). I had to do the accounting for them and mail them a detailed document to get this corrected.
– In many cases, you are forced to correspond through snail mail, but they DON’T read your response. (GMAC in particular is famous for not reading documents. it’s very frustrating when you are trying to get a problem solved).
– In cases where monthly fees were due to them, they forced my correspondence to be through snail mail (just under the legally required 20 day turn-around), delaying the process, increasing their fees (in my case by over $1032).
– I believe they have been downright dishonest with me, by mis-stating contractual terms (in their favor) until they understood that I understood the contract. Some of the above is GMAC, some is Ally. It’s the same corporate culture so be forewarned. I have never been so angry at the way a business treated me. Roll the dice if you like.”

There are more to be sure yet there are some glowing accounts as well. I noted the positive reviews are so positive that an employee of the company couldn’t have done a better job highlighting Ally’s virtues…hey, wait a minute, you don’t think…nah. Ally wouldn’t resort to the underhanded practice so popular these days: shill on review sites for one’s own service. That wouldn’t be honest.

Like I said, I have no knowledge of the inner workings of Ally. I don’t know how committed it is to the full disclosure promised in the first ad campaign, though I do know Ally has launched another campaign that makes absolutely no reference to the promise in the first. And I do know strategic thinking when I see it. And I know and appreciate clever advertising. So for a bank, a remade bank new to the market, to conscientiously respond to what consumers don’t like about banks then position itself as the anti-bank, is a sound strategy. Then to hire one of the world’s most notable agencies, Bartle Bogle & Hegarty, to craft the message in an exceptionally memorable and amusing way is also sound. The only possible hitch in the strategy is, can, or does, the bank deliver on the promise? Is Ally telling the truth? If it isn’t, then just like the kids in the ads, the customers the bank attracts with its advertising are going to feel like horses’ asses for being suckered and not getting the pony.

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  • http://twitter.com/timogeo Tim Geoghegan

    Cheers! Worked with some very smart & talented people on this campaign. It was great to be part of something from the ground up, and resonating with people is worth a lot more than awards to me.


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