Standard Bank Broke My Heart

I see or liken brands to people. I see brand as ‘things’ that have potential, and just like humans, that potential needs to be nurtured.

I am not a Standard Bank customer, and this is not a view on their customer service nor an experience I had with them. This is a view from a broken hearted strategist who is pained by a brand that had an opportunity to really build something special, but chose not to.

Building A Brand Is Not Easy

Building a brand is not easy. So much so that sometimes, nobody knows what they are doing in the process – okay, may be not that “nobody knows what they are doing” – rather, sometimes, we do know what we are doing, because we’ve been through a similar process before. What we definitely don’t know is whether what we are doing will work or not. Even though we have the confidence and belief that it is going to work, there really are no guarantees. There are a lot of brand case studies to prove this. All that we can do is put our best efforts out in the world, and hope for the best. But we don’t just hope for the best though, we put measures in place to give our efforts the best chance to succeed.

Building a brand requires the mind and attitude of a child. Children always think that they know better, even when they don’t (but maybe this is my adult bias, maybe they really do know better). Without flinching, they just believe that they do, which is a great attitude to have.

But sometimes, it is this very attitude that can also blind us, and as a result, stunt this potential. I don’t know why I care so much about brands and what they do, but I suppose that if I didn’t, I wouldn’t be doing what I do. I care so much about brands that often, when I look at the landscape, my heart just bleeds. My heart cracks and breaks into a million pieces. One such brand that has managed to break my heart is Standard Bank. Oh Standard Bank, why? Why do you do me like this?

Sometimes, A Miracle Happens

Sometimes, in the process, magic happenes, an advertising agency and client get it right. Sometimes, things fall into place, everything synchronizes and all the moving parts compliment each other. Sometimes, a brand lands on something so powerful, it feels like you just drank a potion that let’s you live forever and removes all of your ailments. Imagine that, a healthy and fulfilled life that you can enjoy forever? My goodness. This miracle is quite rare, but when it does happen for a brand, every single person who touches the brand should fight till death to protect the magic. Which is why, for the life of me, I will never understand why nobody at Standard Bank nor the agencies or any of the suppliers fought for “What’s Your Next?”

Instead, the brand chose to throw away this magic potion that extends life with no ailments, for a placebo.

Standard Bank had Achieved A Miracle, Which Could Have Been A Global Benchmark

You can go to any South African ad agency, and ask them to show you at least one of their favourite benchmarks in brand marketing. More often, the criteria they use will contain the following factors: a) a brand that has impact b) a brand that is familiar, distinct and memorable.

You can bet your life on discovering that the brand Nike or at least one of its campaigns will be in the top three (3) benchmarks of “How To Build A Brand“. Rightfully so, Nike has found its miracle in “Just Do it” and the notion that “If you have a body, you are an athlete”.

On a very rare occasion, a bank had found its own “just do it”. Standard Bank, with the launch of “What’s Your Next?” had found the magic potion that is sought after by everyone else.

A “What’s your next?” collateral
A “What’s your next” TV show

Standard Bank had, through alchemy, created something that would have given them similar equity in relevance and emotional connection to an Apple or Nike. I genuinely believe this. Apart from all the assets that they would had started to create; the campaign had so many strong legs. From a category point of view, What’s Your Next was a brand platform that would allow them to build and tell brand stories that no other bank would.

Standard Bank had found its own magic potion. They had found the miracle that many brands struggle to find. Never in my life had I been so excited about a campaign from a bank. I literally felt that they not only understood me, but every single person in the country. Such a powerful position for a brand to occupy. Any brand would be ecstatic to be in a position to be able to talk to and resonate with audiences across the entire spectrum.

At that time, the competition was generic. Capitec spoke simplicity (even though from a business point of view they were doing well), FNB was on digital banking and ‘help’ and Nebank was still trying to Make Things Happen, just to name a few. All these positions were vanilla. What’s Your Next spoke to a need. It spoke to the human spirit. This was a brand asset that made sense for the entire business as it could be applied to transactional products, to private banking, to business, to insurance, loans, literally everything the bank offered, could be marketed under the “What’s Your Next” banner.

This underpinned by their brand proposition of “Moving Forward”. This is what I call, a classical strategic orgasm; when everything a brand does finally links back to the strategic intent and more.

‘What’s Your Next’ was a platform that invited people to have a conversation with ‘people’ from the bank. WYN gave Standard Bank a face. It was a very powerful and human centric call to action that didn’t try to sell. It was a platform imbued with empathy towards customers and the general public. WYN was a platform that encouraged and persuaded people to genuinely want to switch banks, without the overt “switch your account/bank” call to action that would be expected.

What’s Your Next gave people hope. It inspired action in people. It encouraged people to really look within and interrogate where they were really going in life. For a very short moment, Standard Bank hinted on the true role of banking, which is to progress the lives of people.

‘What’s Your Next’ gave Standard Bank the authority and audacity to get into people’s lives. It gave Standard Bank the finesse and swag it needed to slide into people’s DMs without being intrusive. It gave SB the stature and credibility that most brands enjoy in popular culture, brands like Vans or Adidas. ‘What’s Your Next?’ made SB more human.

For the first time after a really long time, I was genuinely considering going back to Standard Bank. That campaign pierced through my skin and bones, and touched me in ways that I never thought a brand, let alone a bank could.

It gave me a type of feeling only reserved for musicians, artists and music. Only music makes me feel this way, but Standard Bank managed to achieve this feat.

But Then It All Fell Apart

Standard Bank moved away from ‘What’s Your Next?’, to ‘You’re Good To Go’ and now their new campaign is, ‘It Can Be’. Someone asked me, “It can be what?” Well, I don’t know really. Whatever it is, I just hope it can be impactful as well.

“It Can Be” – New campaign launched during lockdown
A Facebook Post from 2018 about #MyFearlessNext

Do you remember ‘My Fearless Next’? Oh man, what a powerful idea the brand landed on – check my 2018 Facebook post about the initiative.

History doesn’t lie – my comment within the original post

Giving someone a year’s salary so that they can pursue their dreams, as a result, get to their next? Come on! That’s genius. The ‘My Fearless Next’ show was so powerful and driven on true insight that it could have replaced Idols. There was something true, genuine, and undeniable about it, and that’s because it was based on human truth and people’s realities.

There are more people in jobs they don’t like, so that they can feed themselves, more than there are people who are in jobs that they truly want.

Every human being has an idea of what their next is, but they are strangled by fear. A salary is what holds most people from finding their next. Oh man, such a powerful storytelling platform that Standard Bank had.

After having built such a strong and powerful platform, they killed it with a another campaign that was not necessary. It really wasn’t necessary to say; ‘You’re Good To Go’. How am I good to go? And where am I going? It is not surprising that ‘You’re Good To Go’ was soon replaced with the current campaign, ‘It Can Be’. This all looks like a brand that isn’t sure about what it is doing.

I’m not sure who told brands that constantly changing things is a key principle of building strong brands. How many years did Coca-Cola open Happiness? How many has FNB been helping people? How many years has Capitec been simplifying banking? Well, since their launch.

By maintaining a consistent brand narrative, Capitec was able to solidify their position in the category (“Women lie, Men lie, Numbers don’t” – Jay-Z). As a result, what Capitec stood for and offered was “simple” for people to understand and internalize. That’s the power of a single-minded and consistent brand narrative.

I’m not sure what Standard Bank wants to be known for. I wonder what their brand scores look like.

It baffles me why ‘What’s Your Next?’ had to be terminated as a brand asset. Really, the foundation for Standard Bank to build their own “Just Do it” asset was set up, but abruptly destroyed. To this day, I cry over that spilt milk.

I am still to figure our why brands do this; build an asset, invest millions of Rands into it, establish its equity, build memory structures, only to to kill it like a candle blown out when the electricity comes back after loadshedding. Why? Why? My heart bleeds. This is the irony of brands and agencies admiring brands like Nike and Apple that have longevity. Agencies and brand admire global brands, but their never take those learnings to heart. Nike has been saying the same thing over and over and over again, “Just Do It”, and the only difference is that each time, they say it or tell the story in a novel, fresh and interesting way.

‘What’s Your Next’ Would Have Been Appropriate For Life As We Know It Now

Would have, could have, should have, but didn’t. How sad.

If Standard Bank had continued with the ‘What’s Your Next?’ campaign, they would be sitting pretty, with unique opportunities to build more narratives around people fears, needs, outlook, motivations or lack thereof.

Chatting with a friend, they said; “Imagine if Standard Bank, during or post COVID-19 and lockdown, were to ask people; “What’s Your Next?”, how powerful would that be?”

If theres anything that we can learn from the brands that we admire and often use as case studies, it would have to consistancy. They send the same message to their customers, just packaged differently with new characters and storylines.

Usually, what leads to such abrupt changes is ego. It can be either an agency or marketer’s ego. W+K is the creative agency for Nike globally, and as a agency, they are able to achieve such success and power, not because they serve their own egos nor do they serve the ego of the marketer, but because they serve the brand.

I always say to clients, everything we do should only be about the brand, not even the marketer themselves. Why? Because people change their minds. Always do what’s right for the brand, and not the marketer nor the agency. One day, the marketer that you are trying to appease will get an opportunity elsewhere, and you will be left with decisions made to please them, leaving the brand and everyone else stranded. Very dangerous I tell you. Your loyalty should always be towards the brand itself, and not its custodians. Great brands that manage to remain consistent do so without feeling the disruption of the change in personnel. Changes in personnel should never affect a brand’s strategic goals and objectives.

A change in messaging should never affect the strategic intent, and if it does, the change is then not necessary. Changing ‘What’s Your Next?‘ Was absolutely unnecessary. I’d love to see the data that proves that it was time to change it.

I wonder what’s next for Standard Bank now. Hopefully one day, they will land on something just as powerful, and magical as ‘What’s Your Next?’.

Until then, they have really blown something magical and the best opportunity they had at building a strong brand. I hope that you guys reading this can feel my trauma and pain. I struggle with things that most people don’t even bother to ponder on. I hope that those who have read this can understand my pain. My house is full of wet tissues from all the tears and snots. I am heartbroken.

Consistency is what build brands, because it is what gives people a strong reference when they need to make a purchasing decision.


    1. Thank you for reading, Samke. A sad tale indeed. They could have done so much with what they had.

      I can’t help but think how relevant WYN could have been right now.


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