Diana Wichtel on TV: You can’t bank on it

by Diana Wichtel / 10 November, 2012
Why trust a financial institution that has an actor tell us what to think?
Simon Baker

Are banks good? Are banks bad? Are they mad? They are certainly unavoidable at the moment. Banks are on a charm offensive, with sometimes quite offensive results. I do not wish to be lectured on the ethics of money or anything else by a financial institution. Especially at a time of global financial crisis caused by the greed of financial institutions. It reminds me of that Saatchi & Saatchi promo, Lessons from Geese, in which we were given life lessons by an ad agency. But I guess banks have to find some use for those billions of dollars in record profits that are heading off overseas.

There’s the BNZ ad campaign in which American actor Toby Huss looks mysterious and slightly sinister in order to frighten the bejesus out of us about our financial incompetence. He walks us through scenes of success and degradation. Money may not be good but it can apparently make you good. Cue beaming millionaire saving a hospital to media acclaim. Money may not be bad but it can make you a loser. You don’t want to be that nervous-looking guy sitting down to a game of poker with a bunch of hustlers. The message: unless you want to be handcuffed and perp-walked to a waiting police car on charges of fraud, do as we say. Resistance is futile.

In one way that ad is true to life. Dealing with banks is like entering a sort of Twilight Zone where anything can happen. It’s a zone where interest rates go up fast and come down slowly. If you fix, you should have floated. If you float, it will turn out you should have fixed when you had the chance. Never mind, say the banks. Can we lend you some more money? Then there’s the ANZ “I know what you’re thinking” campaign. It stars Aussie actor Simon Baker with an American accent. That’s because he’s in character as
The Mentalist’s Patrick Jane. In the ads he lurks around in parks and on the street, unsettling people with his uncanny mind-reading powers and his industrial-strength smugness. He’s an odd choice to front a campaign that is presumably meant to engender trust. The word mentalist means, in this context, a psychic or fortuneteller.

So that’s how they arrive at those exorbitant fees. On Coronation Street, a mentalist is David Platt. Either way, it’s not good. In The Mentalist, Patrick Jane is a self-confessed fake. So, to sum up: we are taking financial advice from a smirking, conceited charlatan with a fake American accent. Righto. There’s a new ad designed to calm the nerves of those of us who have seen our bank and its lovely black stallion gobbled up by the ANZ. There is Patrick Jane, smugly making a cup of tea with two rather scrotal-looking tea bags. “The power of two,” he says oleaginously. “Kiwis understand that.”

If Patrick Jane really knew what we were thinking, the ad might be very different. Because I’m thinking I would like a bank ad that goes: “I am your bank. I do not care a flying fig about you. I am like a casino, an institution in which the odds are stacked in my favour. I will make an obscene profit. You will make the miserable term deposit rate while paying too much for your mortgage. Should you fall on hard times I have two words for you: mortgagee sale. Have a nice day.” Strangely, these ads didn’t make the grade in the Fair Go Ad Awards. But they make the ones where the crazy lady dressed as a mattress shouts at me about furniture or even the Cigna funeral plan ad where that weird couple announce, “We’d like to be scattered together”, seem honest and refreshing. If banks could really read our minds, they’d just shut up.
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