Archive for January, 2010

Santander: Building bridges with mixed metaphors

Friday, January 22nd, 2010

January 2010 marked the intensification of a huge integrated marketing communications campaign by Spanish financial giant Banco Santander, designed to raise awareness, establish relationships, engage a UK audience and paint the town with its famous flame-red logo. Ever since the acquisition of Abbey National in 2004 (following Alliance & Leicester and Bradford & Bingley in 2008), Santander have been desperate to establish a credible presence in the UK. A steady building up of its name, chiefly through its sponsorship of Formula One has been evident for some time. There is now major competition to the big four UK banks – Barclays, Lloyds Banking Group, HSBC and Royal Bank of Scotland – but at the same time further evidence of the erasing of yet more British financial brands.

Soon over 1,300 branches will carry the Santander colours, helping to win an increasingly dominant place in the UK high-street banking market and the minds of British customers (currently 25 million in the UK). CEO António Horta-Osório claims that “The time is right to make the move to bring the three brands under a single identity making Santander a powerful new force in UK banking”.

Branding strategies in the financial sector range from the multiple brand approach of RBS and Lloyds (RBS with NatWest branches as well as its own; Lloyds with Halifax and Bank of Scotland) to the single brand strategy of Barclays, HSBC (formerly Midland Bank) and now Santander. This is characteristic of the trend towards globalisation for the financial services industry recently seen in the demise of the Norwich Union under the brand name of parent company Aviva. The UK rebranding “transformation” is in line with their policy of operating under the Santander name and brand image in all the markets in which it is present. Santander dominates banking in Spain and has rebranded in all its key markets, including: Spain, Portugal, Germany, Brazil, Mexico, Chile and Argentina.

It has been amazing how little negative PR has been caused by the erosion of hundreds of years of banking brand history and how unaffected Santander have been by the crisis that has swept the UK financial system. (Compare this to the almost xenophobic hostility provoked by Kraft’s bid for the British Cadburys). In November 2004, the Santander brand name only registered amongst 20% of the British public. Now, as a result of a multi-million pound, multi-media campaign, Santander has over 92% brand awareness and is well on its way to claiming a prime spot in the UK financial sector. How have they achieved it and what is the creative intent behind the red building bricks which will be seen increasingly throughout the year?

The “Together. We are Santander.” TV campaign features the construction of a massive road bridge using Lego-look-a-like red building bricks. The metaphor is obvious: Santander strength and stability, projected through the bank’s flame-red branding, and personified by bridge-building team work.  The campaign – which includes TV, press, outdoor, in-store and online ads – tells the story of Santander’s fresh customer-focused approach to banking and how a series of initiatives such as the Zero Current Account1 has helped them build one of the world’s most stable and successful banks. The red brick theme is extended with a problem solving mobile and online “Red Brick Game”, a clever opportunity for Santander to engage with consumers and drive awareness of its brand. The ‘Red Brick’ bridge-building puzzle game is available as an iPhone app, mobile game and a Facebook widget. Users must build a bridge using red bricks, while avoiding obstacles. Scores can be shared via Facebook and Twitter. This follows an online rebrand for Santander that included a home-page takeover of the MSN portal and it is being distributed by an existing Santander Students Facebook group which has over 24,000 fans. Using social media is a great way to increase brand awareness and positively engage with consumers across digital media to cut through with their message an innovative, engaging way.”

The game ties into Santander’s current above-the-line campaign, which features their main endorsing celebrity – Formula 1 star Lewis Hamilton – helping a construction team to build a giant bridge from red toy bricks. He brings to life the teamwork and sense of togetherness that Santander strives for with its customers. Hamilton remains the bank’s chief brand ambassador, but Jensen Button will also be a prominent celebrity in its future campaigns. Santander sponsored British Grand Prix last year and has signed a five-year deal to sponsor rival Ferrari.

The metaphor is clear, the images are strong. At a time when UK financial institutions have tested consumer trust and undermined relationships, a strong, innovative brand offers an opportunity for investors to grow together as part of a team effort. But I can’t help thinking that, whilst the efforts that have gone into the TV campaign (go to to see the making of the Santander TV ad) are undoubtedly fantastic, isn’t the use of Lego bricks a little confusing? And what is it about the theme of toys? Using life-size Airfix kits, Scalextric tracks and now Lego is a nice metaphor for youth and growth, but haven’t we seen this idea in Lego ads (see “How Lego rebuilt a legend brick by brick” in Marketing Communications: A Brand Narrative)? I wonder what James May makes of regression as progression? What do you think?

If you want to download the Red Brick iPhone game click . The text game can also be accessed on 83040 for other mobiles. Or visit