National Australia Bank's Break-up Campaign – Brand Differentiation with a Difference

Straight-up Brand Differentiation.
On Valentine’s Day 2011, across Australia, NAB bankers simultaneously broke it off with the other big banks. The break-up was very public, it happened in restaurants, parks, public transport and bars around the nation. On Tuesday NAB took-out full page advertisements in all the major newspapers taking aim at its three rivals, declaring: ”It’s over between us.” The ‘break-up’ is a clear play by NAB to differentiate themselves from the other big banks and their dubiously unpopular reputations.

In the letter addressed to CBA, ANZ and Westpac, NAB said “I’ve decided I need to break up with you. I think we all know this has been coming…deep down, though, I really feel that we’ve just grown apart.” To a large extent, this creative approach to direct differentiation is connecting with consumers around the country, who whether they believe NAB really has changed-or-not, are at least enjoying the show.

We love the classic bust-up lines in the ads like – “It’s not you, it’s me… I’ve moved on” and “At least I’m really trying to be a better bank”, and a billboard I passed on the freeway this morning saying; “We’ve broken-up with the other banks, be gentle with them”.

Retail and business analyst Barry Urquhart says; “were still convinced that all banks are bastards… What they are trying to do with this campaign is to ‘decommodify’ banking … NAB are picking up on the populism of the politicians and the public thinking [that the banks are] in collusion,”

They broke-up by TV…

They broke-up by helicopter…

They even broke-up in person (how old school is that) with more than 50 ”break-up scenes” in restaurants and at city landmarks, posting them to YouTube and Twitter.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XEk3V_Pw8Ts&feature=related

The campaign has so far failed to win-over the market 100%. As with all brand communications, the real proof will be in what they do, not what they say. However even-though the polls and consumer comments such as this one from The Age Newspaper show an even split between those who rate the brand campaign highly, and those who aren’t moved by it – this should be viewed in the context of consumer sentiment about NAB prior to the bust-up, and relative to consumer sentiment for the other three big banks. Across the board the NAB has won a positive shift in how people feel about them – especially how people feel about them compared to the other big bank brands.

Well done NAB.
A real attempt to bring about competition within the big-4.

“It’s over between us”.
I think it’s really funny and clever!
I love NAB!

just another phoney bank war!

People fall for this nonsense? NAB need to fix their computer system, the regular stuff around is what is driving people away…

The bust-up has been highly emotional, it’s been messy and far from private. Sure, harsh things have been said in the heat of the moment, but as with all good break-ups the split will see many consumers look at both parties in a new light.

Dave Ansett, Brandamentalist
Brand Designer and Big Fan of Messy Break-ups
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4 Comments

  1. Melissa Callanan

    OK these ads are funny – but they are not true – nab is just as bad as the other banks – terrible service – care factor zero – all the tellers at the front of customers are depressed and unhappy…. very high staff turn-over at the bank I go to… commercial and personal accounts … all this award-winning PR brand strategy is … is an example of the ‘dark arts’ in marketing – trickery and bull-shit to get customers … let’s call it the News of the World approach and will catch-up eventually – bubble and fluff taking advantage of a cynical worn-out and tired public ….

    I want to break up with nab!!!! Start a PR campaign about that!!!!

    • Hi Melissa, Love the passion! You’ve hit a particularly important brand nail right on the head – brands are firstly and foremostly about what they do, the products and services they deliver (not offer, but actually deliver), how they behave and especially about how they treat people. Many brands develop a game winning strategy, then blow it by speaking before acting. The nab’s brand strategy here was spot on, their agency identified a relevant and powerful proposition for their brand. The mistake nab made was to believe this was an ad campaign, rather than understanding it required a fundamental shift in the way the business goes to market. The result is reinforced cynicism – if I may diplomatically sum-up your comments in that manner. Thanks for the dialogue – the more advocates of no bullshit branding the better.

  2. Melissa Callanan

    Thanks for your considered response – quite embarrassing to read back on a rant when the passion has passed. I read the Fin Review BOSS article that interviewed the Nab CEO and Chairman recently and was impressed with the strategic thinking and early adopter positioning behind the implementation – however where business people get these conversations and positioning wrong is that they started the campaign before they made the structural changes (except to remove unpopular fees – a quick fix approach). There is something inherently flawed in setting your strategy with an eye to taking advantage of sector wide community mistrust. While the old school Bank Manager as a respected well known individual who backed people is long gone … there is room to come back to this direction. I hope this is the early adopter strategic approach some smart banker CEO takes … my gut tells me people will follow a true leader to profitability. Banks have forgotten that money is personal for people – there is a story attached. Ultimately branding is storytelling.

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