The Musings Of An Opinionated Sod [Help Me Grow!]

Why Square Are An Embarrassment To The Banks …
August 2, 2012, 6:03 am
Filed under: Comment, Square

So over the years, I’ve written a bunch of blog posts slagging off banks.

For example here and here and here.

The reason I’ve slagged them off is not because I think their ads are crap – though that’s definitely the case with many of them – it’s because they basically are lying.

Yes, lying.

Millions upon millions of dollars gets “invested” in campaigns saying banks are fully committed to helping small business or they’re focused on customer service but far too often, the average man in the street only ever experiences this through the ad.

Or the brochure.

Or the print ad.

And that’s why I love a little company in the US called Square.

Square – for those of you who don’t know – is a company that has made an attachment and app for the iPhone that allows people to take credit card payments whenever and wherever they are.

Sure, you pay a small premium to use this service, but what Square have done is help small business improve their odds of survival by not just increasing their options of receiving payment … but by guaranteeing their ability to get paid.

No waiting.

No false promises.

No bouncing cheques.


For a very, very low cost of entry, Square has empowered small business to survive and thrive and what have the banks done – banks, let’s not forget, that spend untold millions talking about their commitment to helping small business – well all they’ve done is make a shitload of empty promise ads, a bunch of meaningless brochures and an environment where customer service has become customer disservice with huge fees attached for every little transaction.

But here’s the thing, as much as a bank should have – and could have – come up with the concept of Square, so should one of the banks ad agencies?

Let’s face it, the issues relating to small business and cash flow is hardly something new … so why didn’t an agency come up with the concept of inventing a low cost, portable credit card reader?

For all the talk of ‘solving business problems’, our ‘solutions’ highlight our ‘truth’ … we make ads, we generally only know how to make ads and we generally only like to promote making ads. No wonder we’ve lost our seat at the boardroom table!

Square is a fantastic idea for small business, but more than that, it’s a great kick in the ass for adland because if we’re to get our influence back, we need to use our smarts to create change, not just create ads.

26 Comments so far
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Square is fantastic and so is this post.

I see many small traders using square so your point about empowering small business appears to be true. But better still is your observation that the insight driving this innovation has been around for much longer than the technology so it’s shameful a bank or agency never came up with the idea or at least got it off the ground.

Great reminder about insight led innovation and the importance of action over wallpaper advertising.

Comment by Pete

I don’t think it’s a case of ‘action over wallpaper advertising’ … it should be a case of ‘action before all advertising’.

The problem with adland is that too often, they think the ‘action’ is the ad and that’s just plainly wrong – at least in many situations.

That’s complicated isn’t it – but you know what I mean … or you do if you listened to a single word I said when we worked together. Ha.

Comment by Rob

Don’t worry Rob, your brainwashing strategy did end up working on me.

Comment by Pete

A little company with a valuation in excess of $1 billion. Exactly because they’re making life easier.

Comment by John

I wonder what the facebook valuation would be if they thought instagram was worth a similar amount despite having no revenue attached to the business?

Comment by Pete

Why would you want a small number of paying customers when you could have a bigger number of freeloaders?

Comment by John

Many companies and agencies are incapable of making a coherent sentence so the chances of them being able to develop a piece of meaningful technology is approximately zero.
Good point that square should shame agencies as much as banks. I hadn’t considered that but you’re correct.
Even if an agency comes out and says they had a similar concept but their client wasn’t interested, it’s not a plausible excuse. When an idea has such a real and distinct revenue model baked in to the heart of the concept, they should do it themselves. The problem is that many agencies only want to suggest the “big idea” rather than take the responsibility to make it happen. At least if it requires something that goes beyond the making of traditional advertising.

Comment by George

Excellent point on an excellent post.

Comment by Lee Hill

Good point George. The whole concept of Square is so simple that even if an agency did come up with a similar concept, the fact they didn’t invest in it themselves is shameful. No wonder so few corporations take us seriously when we don’t have the courage of our ego … especially when that is what we bitch them out for when they don’t think our ads are the work of genius.

Comment by Rob

You forgot to mention they are an embarrassment to planners, digital planners, media planners, digital agencies and media agencies.

Comment by DH

And the rest … though those will do for a start.

Comment by Rob

Though CEO’s that talk about adland solving ‘business problems’ deserve a special mention.

Comment by Rob

I enjoyed that. Good post Rob.

Comment by Bazza

@Rob. Can you add technology planners to that list of people who Square have embarrassed.

Comment by DH

Trust me Dave, Baz is definitely not one of those people.

Comment by Rob

The thing I’ve learned, painfully, over the years is that banks are run by bankers, not marketers.

Bankers generally don’t understand the simple idea that ‘marketing’ puts the customer at the centre of everything. To them customer satisfaction is irrelevant to the central thrust of their business: making money. Anything is OK as long as the customers don’t actually defect. And sure enough, people tend to put up with it. Complexity makes switching banks hard, and lack of perceived difference makes it seem futile.

Most bankers just want their customers to behave in the way that most profits the bank, so their marketing efforts are basically coercive. The underlying message is ‘do it our way’.

So, with an oligoply market, and in the absence of genuine customer service initatives, most bank advertising and marketing is just generic window dressing … First National Bank of Stepford.

Revolutions always come from outside; usually these days sparked by new technology. Mobile payment is going to sweep away a lot of the old certainties for banks. And about time, too …

Comment by Ian Gee

Good point Ian, but I would say technology doesn’t spark revolution, it simply enables them. Before anything can happen, it requires someone to have the sense, vision or imagination to spot the larger opportunity. Unfortunately it appears there are few people like that in the advertising industry, despite their continuous claims of being “creative”.

Comment by George

Why are you up so late??? I thought the long hours were only for adland people, not corporate types. Ha.

Both your – and Ian’s – points are great. I do agree technology opens up amazing possibilities but I also agree it only happens if someone has the ability to see the opportunity.

Technology doesn’t happen by itself which is why I find Square such a sad indictment on so many in the comms industry because we should be coming up with ideas and thoughts like this and even if we have clients that don’t buy them, we should be making things like this off our own backs, because it’s not only a demonstration of our skills, it’s probably the only way we’ll make enough money to survive.

Comment by Rob

The trouble is that most marketing people aren’t marketing people – thus when you put a “marketing” guy in charge of a bank, you get RBS.

Comment by John

Hi Rob,
good post. Yeah, banking ads, are dystopian. But there’s a long list there, including car insurance or mobile operators ads…I am not even sure what the ROI might be for banks: is it really the case of people lining up to get a new bank account upon watching their ads?!

Hey, sorry to drag you off the tangent: I wanted you to see this video posted on youtube:
It’s made by Mentos to celebrate Singapore’s National Day inviting people to do their part in raising SG’s low birthrate.
Not from adland, but it just makes me cringe. Your thoughts?

Comment by eltractor67

Oh dear, that Mentos thing isn’t great is it.

What’s worse is that I think it’s from my wonderful and talented mates at BBH Singapore.

To be fair, the idea is quite interesting – it’s certainly a cultural issue that you wouldn’t expect a brand to leverage – but the expression of the idea and, errrrm, the link to Mentos is not very good.

I’m all for mad – hell, my Tango work was positively insane, but this feels like they’ve bolted things together and then tried to make it fun because they realise it’s not really that funny after all.

Yes … yes … mints give you fresh breath so you can kiss etc etc, but that’s not really the premise is it? Is it??

Well, that’s at least how I felt after the first view … though I do admit, if someone said they want to help Singapore get a bigger population by encouraging shagging, I’d be very intrigued.

Comment by Rob

Definitely seems like an interesting idea not quite followed through as well as it could have been.

Better than having a rubbish idea though…!

Comment by Rob Mortimer (Not a fake Andy)

Is this offer only available if you eat mentos in singapore?

Comment by Billy Whizz

Have you checked out their new Pay with Square app?

It’s great in that you don’t even need to take out your phone (let alone your wallet) to pay for something in a store. Just walk up to make an order, and the cashier will know it’s you based on your profile photo and account info.

Comment by nik poon (@nQuo)

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