Self-help CommBank style

Self-help CommBank style

Commonwealth Bank first said “can” back in 2012 via a Dr Seussian screed read whimsically by Toni Collette. And now, in what feels like the marketing campaign equivalent of hoisting the white flag, their latest effort effectively admits they can’t after all.

Sounding more like a self-help book than a bank, their new billboard extols:

“When you believe you can. You can.”

When the campaign first launched I was quite critical (a surprise I know). It was a stupid promise doomed to be broken more than kept and the only thing more certain than the way it devolved into meaningless ‘can’ claims (best banking website for two years – we can), was that it would at some point become a parody of itself.

Enter the latest billboard timed it seems to go along with the release of The Voice finalist Steve Clisby crooning “three little letters” (‘can’ for those of you alphabetically challenged) to help Australians get all goose bumpy about the idea of a bank actually interested in more than quarterly profits… according to CommBank chief marketing officer Vittoria Shortt:

“The sentiment of ‘Can’ underpins every interaction we have with our customers…”

Now, l’m all for organisations viewing their brand as the result of everything they do. But having a campaign sentiment that ‘underpins every interaction’ with the customer (at least until the next agency and campaign come along) and having something you deeply care about drive how and what you do are several chasms apart.

With all respect to the ad honchos who masterminded this campaign, I’m all good on the self-help front. I have zero need for my bank to get into the fray.

By all means be positive about what you can do. Show me what you care about (always better than telling me). Deliver services to me in ways that tangibly benefit me.

Instead of trying to hype me into some kind of feel-good stupor, do something really different and keep your promises.

To be fair to the good people hard at work on the frontlines at Commbank, none of this is their fault. I’m sure they are showing up and doing their best to keep a promise that shouldn’t have been made even though their products and services and policies will result in plenty of can’t along with a bit of can.

The lesson here for the rest of us, for businesses who don’t enjoy protected status with a licence to print money, is you can’t (pun intended) survive on feel-good hype alone.

At some point you have to do what you say because ‘believing you can’ is nice ad copy, but we all live in the real world and know it also takes a lot of hard work and not a little bit of luck before you can.

See you next week.

Michel is an independent brand analyst dedicated to helping organisations make promises they can keep and keep the promises they make – with a strong, resilient organisation as the result. She also publishes a blog at You can follow Michel on Twitter @michelhogan


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