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Canadian Banks' Condescending Ads Are Seriously Insulting

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Generally speaking, television advertisements seek to boost the viewer's ego by suggesting that he or she is a smart, savvy consumer. Recently, however, I've noticed one glaring exception to this rule: TV ads for Canadian banks.

In my experience, Canadian bank ads consistently treat consumers as naïve idiots with room temperature IQs. For example, take a recent Scotiabank ad with the tagline "You're richer than you think." The ad features a young male customer who needs some immediate cash to purchase a gift. The bank employee says "So I moved a few things around and saved you $1,500 a year."

First off, how smart is it to advise a young person to blow a large amount of money rather than save diligently for the future? The most insulting thing, however, is the bank employee's announcement that she could quickly and magically find this guy an extra $1,500 a year.

The bank looks modern and forward-thinking. The customers? Not so much.

Given his nascent financial profile, it's hard to believe that there was an extra $15 much less $1,500 a year sitting around in his accounts. And even if there was, why hadn't the bank directed that amount to him before? How naive and stupid does Scotiabank think this customer is?

Another Scotiabank ad provides a new financial plan to a young, home-buying couple and tells them: "It's like you're financially new and improved." That's all fine and good until we subsequently see the couple in their car outside their soon-to-be-new house acting like two bumbling stalkers. The bank is smart and sophisticated and the customers are portrayed as clueless clowns.

Scotiabank is not the only offender in the realm of condescending TV ads. A recent BMO ad shows a customer at home on her phone making fun of what she assumes is an automated call from her bank. It turns out, however, that she's actually talking to a real, live bank employee. The bank portrays itself as customer friendly and calls this the "BMO effect." The effect on the customer, on the other hand, is to make her look a little stupid.

Then there's the series of ads from TD Canada Trust featuring two incredulous grumpy old codgers who can't believe the bank is open late, open on Sunday, doesn't require an appointment and so on. Again, the bank looks modern and forward-thinking. The customers? Not so much.

bank customer

And what about CIBC? They've been running ads for a few years now with Percy the Penguin as their featured customer. Being compared to a not-so-bright flightless bird can't do a lot for the self-image of the average customer of this bank.

Even staid old RBC seems to treat customers like rubes as they did in their ad telling a young couple to split their mortgage and make it part fixed and part variable. "Advice you can bank on," says the RBC ad. A recipe for a loss of negotiating leverage for the poor hapless couple is more like it.

As you can see, all of the big five Canadian banks are offenders when it comes to insulting their customers and treating them like hapless idiots. Why, you might ask, would an advertiser go out of its way to do this? Well, in the case of the big five, they make billions in profits every year no matter what happens. So why not have some fun at the consumer's expense while they're doing it?

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