Australia’s Westpac gets the medium right but the message all wrong

During this economic downturn, a number of brands have employed a strategy of producing content that uses simple language and graphics to help consumers understand a situation they may not previously have faced. For example, I’ve written about UBank’s series of smart Webisodes on topics such as “Credit Crunch Explained” and “Recession Explained.”

By contrast, Westpac, Australia’s second largest bank, recently stumbled with an animated video that tries to explain why it has pushed up interest rates. The bank’s retail chief, Peter Hanlo, e-mailed the roughly three-minute video to hundreds of thousands of customers. The response was outrage over the video’s condescending tone and its misplaced analogy centered around banana smoothies (which have become more expensive since severe storms destroyed banana plantations in Australia). Prime Minister Kevin Rudd suggested Westpac take “a long, hard look at itself.”

Meanwhile a crop of spoof videos quickly appeared, using the same animation style and banana smoothie theme to damning effect (two examples: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E4KmkcvskHE and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k60ZrtFD2JY&feature=related).

One of our 10 Trends for 2010 is Visual Fluency—the acceleration of the shift from words to images, and increasingly innovative ways to explain and illuminate complex topics. There are many ways for brands to leverage this trend—and likewise many ways to get it wrong. In this case, the medium was right, while the message was all wrong.

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