Recently, in a movie theatre in downtown Toronto, the audience was suffering through the pre-movie ads when a familiar message from Scotiabank flashed on the screen: “You’re richer than you think.” That’s when one heckler loudly offered, “Not anymore!” and the theatre erupted in laughter. It turns out that was one of the tamer responses to the ad, which is playing to mocking audiences in Cineplex theatres across the country. In Vancouver, where condo prices are crashing, the ad has been met by obscenities and even the hurling of soft drinks.
It’s safe to say that wasn’t the reaction marketers were looking for when they cooked up the campaign. But in this age of economic turmoil, that’s what they’re getting. Even the Royal Canadian Air Farce has poked fun at the slogan by turning it on its head so it reads, “We’re richer than you think.” The scoffing response to the award-winning ad offers up a cautionary tale for advertisers, especially banks. Advertising can be tricky at the best of times, but selling financial advice during a nasty recession is like walking through a minefield.
The risks of sticking with the line haven’t been completely lost on Scotiabank. In December, the bank conducted a major public opinion study “to find out whether or not we should have some genuine concerns about this—whether it was becoming insulting to people,” says Rick White, the bank’s vice- president of marketing. The result? “Canadians still found it very, very suitable,” he says. Not only is it a well-recognized financial slogan, but it’s an upbeat one, notes White.
Daniel Robinson, a professor of media studies at the University of Western Ontario, agrees: “There’s still some appeal in making people feel there’s a potential silver lining in that now-foreboding folder of investment statements.” But Scotiabank seems to be backing away from its “richer than you think” tag all the same. In its latest batch of ads, the line appears buried underneath a much bigger block of text, featuring a brand new message that’s a little more recession-friendly: “Make the most of what you have.”