Brand: Smith Barney
Link: Click Here and Click Here
Target: Business Owners
These spots continue the two-year old re-emergence of Smith Barney as an independent financial unit within Citigroup. The first spot features a well-dressed retiree putting his wife on a horse as ‘the golden years’ plays in the background. The music grinds to a halt as he turns to the camera and says that it wasn’t always this good – his business almost closed in 1984 and they did not take a vacation for years afterwards. His financial advisor helped him work out of it. In the second spot, a voiceover paired with mandolins tells us that Elizabeth just sold her business and is taking a year off to travel the world. Elizabeth is shown painting in Italy, but as the camera closes in on her she tersely interrupts the spot, saying “you want the truth? It’s taken me 23 years to build my company to the point where I could step out of the picture. I’ve hardly taken a vacation let alone a year. Of all the great advice my financial consultant gave me – doing this might have been the best.” Both spots conclude with a text shot to identifiable Smith Barney music saying “You work hard to earn it. Shouldn’t your financial consultant?” followed by “This is who we are. This is how we earn it,” which is echoed in a voiceover.
The nice thing about this campaign – developed over the past two years by Merkley+Partners – is that is recognizes that the Smith Barney brand has a past and a heritage. It is a continuation of Smith Barney’s legendary John Houseman campaign from the 1980′s “We make money the old-fashioned way. We Earn It.” Given the intervening two decades, it would have been easy for Merkley to walk away from the venerable spot, or to distort the essence in rebuilding it (as Coca-Cola has unfortunately done with the cherished ‘Hilltop’ spot in an attempt to tout the puzzling Coke Zero product).
Instead what we get is that gruff John Houseman sensibility expressed through the business owners themselves rather than through an inferior copy of the late Houseman himself. The brilliance of this commercial is that it understands that the core of the brand character of Smith Barney is ‘tough talk, no nonsense’ and it finds a compelling visual way to render this. Here is what works by the numbers -
- Continuity – The tagline “This is who we are. This is how we earn it.” builds on the credibility of the 80′s campaign and makes it more assertive.
- Surprise – The visual surprise of going from wide shots to close focus, the soundtrack surprise of hearing the LP needle (for those of you who can remember record players) dragged off the record and the narrative surprise of having the commentary taken over by the characters make this spot compelling.
- Value Proposition – This spot has a clear value proposition, carefully pitched to the ear of the succesful business owner. We’ll tell you things you may not want to hear – but we’ll be with you in bad times and good, it says to them. Not attempting to gloss over the real world add authority to these spots.
The format and tonality of these spots is distinctive and ownable, but we don’t think the branding is as strong as the 1980′s spots. Smith Barney should pay careful attention to the memorability of their brand in this spot and move to improve the branding if there is a problem.
Branding Bottom Line:
Our knees get weak when Smith Barney talks tough.