A Branding Secret: Consistency

By Walt Albro

The “big five” Canadian banks rarely change rank by assets. Fifteen years ago, Scotiabank was the smallest of the “big five” Canadian banks. Today, the bank is No. 3.

How the bank moved up so quickly is attributable to a successful branding strategy, according to Jack Bensimon, president of the Toronto agency Bensimon Byrne, which was responsible for creating the approach.

The secret of success over the years is the fact that campaign changed by “evolution” rather than “revolution,” Bensimon says. “The one thing we have learned is that continuity is the unsung hero in driving effective branding in the marketplace,” he notes.

“There is no shortage of examples of brands that change things every two or three years. And precious few brands that build on a consistent idea over time and reap the benefits of the residual value of their advertising and marketing budget,” he says.

Bensimon spoke at the recent ABA Bank Marketing Conference in Denver.

The consistent idea was that Scotiabank helped customers to become better off financially. The tagline changed over the years, but each new tagline was rooted in the original concept.

Canadian banking

Banking is one of the most competitive industries in Canada. Bank growth is based on acquisition of new customers, but only 16 percent of Canadians change their bank in any given year, Bensimon says.  Further, the sales cycle for a new customer is very long—it can be a lifetime. Bensimon points out that it’s not uncommon for people to never change their bank.

The fight for consumers is fierce with the “big five” spending billions a year to increase brand preference and customer “consideration for the next financial need.”

When Bensimon took on the Scotiabank account in 2000, the agency noted that none of the large Canadian banks featured the

Scotiabank shifted away from direct product promotions about 15 years ago. In this example, the ad is from the customer’s point-of-view, showing how customers’ financial lives are made easier through use of Scotiabank’s online banking.


customer point-of-view in their advertising. Instead, the ads tended to be paternalistic, with the big banks more-or-less talking down to customers and lecturing them what they needed to buy.

After research and focus groups, Bensimon suggested a simple innovation: to put the customer in Scotiabank ads. This was integrated with the tagline that Scotiabank is “dedicated to helping customers become financially better off.”

Video ads showed ordinary customers struggling with everyday financial issues—implanting the idea that Scotiabank was there to help them out.

The agency was not completely satisfied with the campaign, however. Although, there was an innovative execution, it lacked a strategic brand differentiation, Bensimon noted. Also, other Canadian banks began following Scotiabank’s lead and started putting customers in their ads.

Bensimon went back to the drawing board and searched for a stronger differentiating factor—something that would make people think differently about the role of the bank in their lives. They

About 10 years ago, the bank started to focus on the its ability to provide financial advice for customers. In this ad, a customer brings his financial statements from another bank to Scotiabank to obtain a “second opinion.”


decided to shift the emphasis in advertising away from the product and toward financial advice. The result was a campaign in which Scotiabank offered to give customers of other banks a free “second opinion” about their allocation of financial assets.

This evolved into a campaign in which the bank promoted its ability to help customers uncover sources of hidden health. The agency created the tagline “You’re Richer than You Think,” which endured for 10 years and became the most highly recognized banking tagline in Canadian banking.

Further evolution

The financially upbeat campaign has always struck a chord with people regardless of the economy, says Bensimon. “Over time, the flexibility of the promise has enabled Scotiabank to shift the balance between emotional optimism and functional pragmatism and incorporate new partners and sponsorships that have helped to differentiate the brand.”

Since the recession—and with ongoing global economic uncertainty—Canadians have adjusted their aspirations with the goal of living “a balanced life,” Bensimon observes. They’re not striving to be millionaires and money isn’t their end goal—they view


When the recession hit, Scotiabank tweaked its advertising again, pointing out how the bank enabled some of life’s emotionally rewarding moments. In other words, customers who used the bank were not only richer than they thought financially—but also richer than they thought emotionally.



money as a tool to help them get balance and live life with their own priorities, Bensimon says. “It was our responsibility to improve the financial situation of every single Canadian—but equally as important, we had to add richer life experiences wherever possible.

“While yes, Scotiabank offers financial products and services just like the other banks, we also offer something more: the balanced view between money and a richer life. That’s why in all our efforts, we never forget that beyond the rational benefit of sound financial products and services was the very real, emotional end benefit of feeling financially better off.

“This is evidenced in each of our financial service communication pieces, as well as the partner programs and sponsorships we support. Key programs include Scotiabank Scene, the only movie loyalty program in Canada, allowing movie-loving Canadians to get more of what they love—free movies. Community hockey, one of the largest community hockey sponsorships in Canada (second to Tim’s). Broadening our view on enabling richer life experiences inclusive of and beyond the financial has set the bank apart from the other banks and continues to add dimension to ‘You’re richer than you think’.”

The latest evolution of the strategy involves showcasing the “why” behind Scotiabank rather than the “what” of what they do. This involves use of a new tagline, “We believe that everyone has the right to be better off.”


In 2014, Scotiabank reported net income of $7.3 billion, up 4.6 percent vs. 2013.

As well, Scotiabank climbed to 4th among Interbrand’s ranking of Canadian brands.  Scotiabank was listed as the Top Riser among all financial brands, with brand value up 94 percent (vs. TD at 11 percent, RBC at 33 percent, BMO at 17 percent and CIBC at 10 percent).

According to a 2015 PwC study, Scotiabank is Canada’s third largest bank by assets and market capitalization.

In May of 2015, Scotiabank tied TD for #1 in consideration for next financial service among non-clients. Brand Equity hit a record high of 60 percent (vs. 54 percent in 2013 and 46 percent in 2012). Total advertising awareness hit 35 percent, second only to TD at 38 percent, and proven recall hit a record high of 66 percent.

“Where other banks are promoting switch incentives or campaign- driven advertising, we have remained true to our core promise—that everything we do is for the single focus of helping Canadians become better off, financially and emotionally,” Bensimon adds.

Walt Albro is the content editor of ABA Bank Marketing.