How bad writing (and inane slogans) can harm a brand’s image (Part 3)

The website is widely used by a vast range of surfers, ranging from novices to pros. Some time ago I had the misfortune of trying to set up internet banking on my Standard Bank business account. That disastrous trip into their confusing virtual bank left me astounded at the poor level of writing on their website. (The systemic difficulties involved in actually transacting any business via that website are fodder for a different columnist.)

Before I dish the dirt, last week I asked my South African tweeps (Twitter followers for the uninitiated) what time Standard Bank branches close during the week. I received the following tweet from @StandardBankGrp, which doesn’t follow me but obviously has a standing hash tag search alert on the bank’s name: “Hi there, we close at 15:30 :o)”.

Now, I have been accused by some of my followers, most notably @cjhancock, of inverting the smiley emoticon. (Apparently it is twittiquette to smile like this 🙂 and not like this (-: when ending off a kindly intended tweet. Take care not to strain your neck while deciding which you prefer.) But, whichever version you choose, the punctuation mark that most closely resembles a human nose when looked at sideways is a simple dash. I suppose an N- or M-dash would do too, particularly if you were stretching the truth.

But not an “o”. I am surely not the only one who conjured up a mental image of a pig when faced with the :o) emoticon used by the Standard Bank tweeter. This reminded me of a column I wrote several months ago, “When is a Piggy not a piggy? The state of banking in SA (Part 1)”. When I reread it, I noticed with a gasp that I had never completed the second part, which was about Standard Bank.  Yet another reason to plough on.

Researching this column I realised that bad writing goes beyond the words used to market or communicate on behalf of a brand. It encompassed the actual name of the brand as well as any slogans or taglines used to promote the brand.

To begin with, choosing the adjective ‘standard’ to describe any brand is brave. Although it can be stretched to mean the yardstick by which all others are measured, most people understand the word to mean one of the following synonyms:

 accepted, average, basic, common, customary, everyday, garden variety, general, normal, run-of-the-mill, typical, usual ( describes it as meaning “used or accepted as normal or average, not special or exceptional.”

So, the very name of this bank opens itself up to ridicule and wordplay, as is evident in the following headlines I found on various blogs.

Standard Blank! Awesome one day cricket – Shitty every day service (Obviously this one comes from the days when they still sponsored cricket. I found it on a blog called Standard Blank which you can read here.)

“Goodbye Sub-Standard Bank and FNB, how can you help me?”(By Gideon Galloway on his blog.)

As if that wasn’t bad enough, the marketing brains at Standard Bank decided to give us more ammunition. In 2009 they revised their marketing strategy and chose Brand Union Africa to handle the campaign. The agency’s website cites this as a case study:

“A revised brand positioning and pay-off line was developed in line with the bank’s evolving business strategy – ‘Moving Forward’ … to convey to the market place that Standard Bank is a dynamic and responsive financial institution.”

I’m no expert but to me the pay-off line negates the alleged dynamism of the brand. Clearly I am not alone in my thinking.

The following comments appear on Standard Bank’s own blog in response to a post about their new marketing strategy.

Ok, so you’re moving forward. Now please fire the idiots and egomaniacs in your branding and marketing departments (advertising that you wear sneakers on payday!!!) that have escaped from the Jerry Springer show (or were too dumb to make the Show) and focus on what you do worst – customer service at an affordable price.

No, No No: that’s not an entry in your new slogan contest; it’s what we expect you to do.

(Anonymous, 4/11/2011)


As someone who has spent their whole career in the advertising and marketing field, it is depressing that big brands are still falling for the in-depth but nonsensical rationales that support such vacuous and meaningless pay-off lines. Shame on the agency, shame on Standard Bank’s marketing Department

(A different Anonymous, 20/7/2009)

For the record, although they complained before I did, they have chosen to remain anonymous. (*pats herself on the bank for having the courage of her convictions*)

Other bloggers have also spoken out against this backfiring marketing idea. Standard Blank posted a column with the following heading:

 “Standard Banks advertising agency “moving backwards!”

 Another blogger used the tagline rather cheekily:

“As for me, I think it’s time to start “Moving forward” to another bank.  @FNB here I come…” (See the full blog posting here )

At this point I considered relooking at the great Laugh it Off “Standard Wank” debacle, but decided discretion is the better part of valour. (But you can revisit it here and here if you are so inclined.)

I have greatly exceeded my word limit so this topic will “move forward” again next week. I leave you with this optimistic, if somewhat naïve, form on Standard Bank’s blog:

How would you describe Standard Bank’s service?

  • Friendly and empathetic
  • Fast and efficient
  • Reliable, consistent and comprehensive
Methinks they have left off an option or two.
This column first appeared on