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Actions speak louder than ads – CommBank and the Dollarmites scandal


Actions speak louder than ads – CommBank and the Dollarmites scandal


The Commonwealth Bank’s Dollarmites scandal saw employees of the largest bank in Australia caught meddling with children’s bank accounts to hit internal targets. Ben Peacock is sick of brands trying to wow us with their advertising while their actions tell a different story.

VW and emissions. Kendall Jenner and Pepsi. Uber and sexismRip Curl and North Korea.

I’m getting used to brands disappointing me. But Commonwealth bank and Dollarmites, seriously? This is a brand I trusted with my children and now decades of that trust is lost. And it’s not just trust – while Dollarmites is about helping children learn to save and manage money, it also plays a strong new business role for the bank. By putting your first bank account in your hand, it creates a brand relationship that starts young and, for many people, lasts for life. Indeed, statistically, you are more likely to change your partner than change your bank. So that first bank account is powerful stuff.

Which bank would allow such a long term brand asset to be compromised for short term gain? Which bank indeed.

So, how on earth can this happen? Quite simply, brand has changed and the way companies approach it has not. Once upon a time brand was something you sorted out in the brand team, then took to the market through ads – what’s missing from this picture is actions. The best brands start with a clear company-wide purpose, one that the whole organisation buys into – not just the brand team. They then prove this purpose with actions by working with everyone from product development to the corporate responsibility to help deliver on it. Finally, if and when the time is right, they run ads.  

It’s not the ads that make the brand, it’s the acts. Yet still, too many big brands try to wow us with advertising while their actions tell a different story. The ‘new cool’ get it. Think Thankyou. Its brand didn’t come out of a focus group, it came out of an ideal – a mission to change the world. Its actions are its products. ‘Buy our soap, change a life’ – suddenly ads become easy and believable.

Unilever gets it. One by one, it is matching every one of its brands to a cause – Omo and outdoor learning (Dirt is Good), Dove and self esteem, Flora and heart health. These are brand actions that change the world. Patagonia gets it. Its brand is built on doing a whole lot of work to make its products environmentally better and challenging the world to do the same.

Occasionally the banks get it too. Read the online comments on Westpac’s recent ‘help’ ad and two themes come through loud and clear; firstly, it doesn’t matter what your ad says when the truth of your actions is being laid bare at the Royal Commission. Secondly, of all the scenes the ad strings together, the one that people actually believe – the redeeming brand asset – is the Westpac helicopter. Smart brand managers will see that thread and start to pull. They’ll stop running ads and start looking for ways their company can authentically – and publicly – do some good in the world. 

When you do that, you define your brand by its actions; you set an example everyone in the company can follow; you decrease the risk that some dept, somewhere, will do something stupid; and ironically, by not starting with ads, you put yourself in a far better position to run them by creating content which, is real, compelling and when put alongside a message of trust, gives me a reason to actually believe you.

Ben Peacock is founder of Republic of Everyone.

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Image copyright: studiograndouest / 123RF Stock Photo


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