Today on the frontpage of all Belgian newspapers there's news about the possible closing of the Opel factory in my city Antwerp. If the factory closes it would mean that 2700 employees are directly unemployed and it will affect another 10.000 people indirectly. I remember working for Opel when I started my advertising career at McCann-Erickson in Holland. At that moment they were the best sold car of the year. They weren't really anxious to try something new or creative in advertising. Of course some employees with common sense tried to warn Opel that their play-it-safe, uncreative marketing policy is going to take its toll one day. But they were the best already, so why bother? Right now, 6 years later, Opel dropped to number 7.
People seem to make the wrong decisions in every situation. Yesterday Balkenende, the prime minster of Holland, announced that Holland is in its worst crisis since the depression of 1930. He told everybody to be really concerned. Now isn't that just what you need in times of crisis? The reason this crisis got out of hand in the first place was because everybody is afraid to spend money. And now some prime minister is making people scared as hell. After a speech like that, the Dutchmen will be even afraid to spend money on a pair of socks.
The Fortis bank is also in a big crisis. There have been negotiations with the stockholders about selling the Fortis-holding to the French bank BNP Paribas, but the stockholders voted 'no'. Surprisingly, Fortis goes on with advertising. Maybe not as much as before but in the newspapers, the same newspapers that give them the worst publicity ever, they place full paged ads. And surprisingly, the ads are really good. They don't try to cover things up with smooth talking or pretending nothing ever happened. They just admit that things went wrong and prove to the consumer that their money is not at risk. In one of the ads, they printed a contract in which they promise the insurance clients of Fortis that their money is safe. And if you really want to be sure, you can cut out the contract and add it to your insurance documents (it was even in the Belgian news, see here
). Now crisis marketing is never an easy job. But to make yourself as a company as vulnerable as this shows a lot of courage.
As a bank, you cannot neglect the crisis anymore when you're making advertising. That seems like common marketing sense. But then again, last week I saw a commercial from a bank that showed stock footage of smiling people with the words 'trust' and 'reliability' floating through it. I don't know from which planet the marketing managers came from but in these times that kind of crap doesn't work anymore. It's crisis. Wake up. Time to make creative ads.