There's no getting away from the fact that we are living in an increasingly material world.
As a marketer, I often worry about how my profession as a whole fans the flame of the ugly world of consumerism, driving wants and desires for things we don't need, and reinforcing the Keeping up with the Joneses' (or increasingly the Kardashians') culture of unnecessary spending and lavish living. Often with little thought to individual financial situation, the impact on our environment and the actual inherent value of the goods being bought.
Managing the marketing for a leading UK financial social enterprise allows me to separate myself from the darker side of consumer marketing. I'm extremely proud to be part of an organisation that puts the people using the services first and which exists simply to provide these services (and to do so well), to share profits made with customers and to make the local community a nicer place. My organisation operates to a strong code of ethics towards promoting savings and loans products to new and existing customers. As such, I tend to get a bit ranty when other, larger financial businesses - who should know better - don't extend their customers the same courtesy.
One such example is one of the UK's largest bank's new customer "reward" scheme. The advert focuses on a prettiful pair of green vintage style shoes (don't even get me started on how this irks me as a woman). It tells us that the bank will randomly select 1000 customers to be given a refund on a transaction of up to £500 each week. Now, having spent the last 6 years promoting spending responsibly and increasing financial capability and empowerment throughout my organisation's customer base and within the local community, this sort of marketing really makes my blood boil. It's saying "spend now, think later" and plants the seed that maybe it's ok to spend a little more as there's a chance the bank will pick up the tab. Only, it appears upon closer inspection that your chances of that happening are pretty blinking slim.
What is wrong with providing people with accessible financial products that meet people's needs and expectations, rather than fashioning gimmicky promotions? Invest in providing a good service and getting to know your customers, rather than shooting an arrow into the dark and refunding whoever it lands on. The small print indicates that there are certain moral limitations to what will be refunded. As a marketer, I'm going to suggest that any financial promotion that requires terms and conditions specifying that refunds will not be given on 'adult entertainment, escorting, internet drug stores or payday lending' is probably missing the trick by a country mile.
Much as I dislike it, I've come to expect the unscrupulous payday lending companies promoting loans for frivolous reasons, and marketing their high cost loans to inappropriate markets. Thankfully, recent regulation has put the kibosh on that to a certain extent. But it leaves me with a very bad taste in my mouth when mainstream high street banks put irresponsible marketing before customer well-being.
It is on us - financial organisations - to develop helpful and responsible relationships with our customers and members. To promote healthy attitudes towards spending and money management and help people manage their finances effectively. It's no secret that mainstream banking organisations are attempting to disingenuously replicate the authentic local, friendly service driven culture that financial mutuals and credit unions provide.
But on this occasion, like many others, the banks are failing miserably.