How Union Bank Created The Strangest TV Commercial In History

Imagine the meeting. 

Notebooks at the ready, and of course some iPads and Galaxy Notes too. The projector is on. We’re staring at home screen.

This is the presentation that is supposed to change everything for Union Bank— that old bank with the horse that used to gallop, facing to the left. Now, there’s a new logo—half a horse, now flying over the rounded word mark ‘union bank’ and made to look like a cut-off vectorised low poly. 

Anyway, back to the pitch. 

The challenge is simple but not easy. We need to get the attention of all Nigerians. We’re less about demographics and more about psychographics. You know, let’s talk to people who behave in a certain way, no matter their age or gender. These are Nigerians across the country. Now, what do we know about them.

First of all, we are sure that life is hard. Decades of failed promises by soldiers and politicians. Kidnappings. Boko Haram. Also, have you heard: all of the middle class want to relocate to Canada.

Good. Noted, says the boss. He’s probably the Head of Marketing— in some companies this person will be called the Marketing Director. Around him on the conference table will be brand managers, corporate communications executives, and interns. Beware of interns. Sometimes they want to prove to their supervisors that they’re not chair fillers so they talk too much, shoot overzealous questions at the MD of the advertising agency.

What else do we know? Nigerians are also mostly religious or follow some version of God, Who should protect them from kidnappers, armed robbers, the village people, and the police— and also make their dreams come true. 

That’s a great insight, isn’t it? Dreams coming true. How can Union Bank show that it can be the catalyst for Nigerians getting their wishes in life?

“That’s the question we must answer,” someone said. I don’t know who.

Wait, let’s be careful, said another someone. Don’t forget that banking communication should be conservative. We have to stick to the point of benefit, our USP, the core of our expertise, you know, like Zenith Bank—People, Technology, Service— an oldie but a goodie. 

Or maybe we should do something actually interesting like what Diamond Bank did. Have you seen the Bovi campaign? 

Yes, You Need a New Bank. It’s funny. 

And memorable! Straight-to-the-point messaging. Even idiot-proof.

But where is Diamond Bank today? 

Kontinu.

My friend, you miss the point. You know what’s happening with Diamond Bank is a whole different story. Don’t blame Bovi for it; he’s only a poor comedian. We can’t keep doing the same thing and expect a different result. Look at First Bank.

What happened to First Bank?

It’s growing younger, can’t you see? Some people might even think our bank is older than First Bank.

Okay, okay. Back to the matter at hand, says the Marketing Director as he sips his tea. I like where that idea was going. I reckon we’re ready to make things somewhat… um… disruptive. 

And so it goes. The agency finishes it off. They sell the bank on the idea that you could mine the religiosity of Nigerians and the hardship that is gradually killing them—empathise and then offer hope. 

Maybe the agency has come to this meeting with a White person or two—because there’s nothing more magical at a pitch than a White/Indian person with an abundance of sellers’ swag. You’ll still sell the same ideas you came with but now, thanks to foreing investment, you’ll now do it more smoothly.

Okay, sorry about the digression.

As you well know, advertising isn’t just about what you want to say, it’s about how you say it. 

That’s why one brand manager nodded sagely and proclaimed: We need a powerful script for this idea! 

Of course, Einstein. Look, here’s a powerful script, says the agency.

Everyone watches as the script is read performed for them.

“Nigeria we hail….”

They can feel it. They see themselves in it.

“That house… na you go build am… dis children… dem go grow and prosper… this business… e no go spoil for your hand o.”

The concept is fresh and so native and so authentic.

But is it UNION BANK, though? said one of the Uncle Thomases around the table.

Look, said the White man with just a tad of imported condescension. As Mandela said, “It always seems impossible until it’s done.” Trust me, this will work. When you start winning all the awards, you’ll give me a call and thank me, hey? Besides, if you think about it, this story of resilience is spot on Union Bank, right? Right?

As the meeting disperses and people are wheeling the extra seats out of the conference room, somebody (I don’t know the somebody) said, You know who will be the best voice for this commercial?

Who? Morgan Freeman?

Haha. Dede.

Who is Dede?

For real? Are you for real now? You don’t know Dede Mabiaku?

P.S: Of course, I wasn’t in the meeting. I just guessed everything. 

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