Ahead of its Time: The Co-Operative Bank

Lise Brian

4 min read

Over the last decade, it’s become the norm for brands to place ethics and values at the centre of their business. But back the early 1990’s, businesses, and banks in particular, were far more focused on other measures of success.

At that time the banking sector was dominated by the big four. Creating a challenger brand in a market dominated by not one or two but four FTSE 100 businesses is not for the faint-hearted! We felt privileged to work alongside a progressive and fearless marketing department that was more than happy to take on the world. In order for The Co-operative Bank to find a new, more niche market it turned to its rich heritage of the co-operative movement and the Rochdale Pioneers.

A significant part of our contribution was to create a new positioning statement: “A modern bank that goes about its business in an ethical manner.” This took into account the bank’s investment in new technology so that it wouldn’t simply be perceived as being immersed in idealism. The Co-operative Bank had that distinctiveness and differentiation sitting at its heart.

‘After all, the business was founded on the co-operative principle of creating value for customers and not a return for shareholders. In addition, what it was and was not prepared to invest in formed the basis of its newly formed ethical policy, and that gave it a true point of difference. Today, it would seem obvious to place ethics front and centre but in the 90s this was revolutionary. And what was created was an unequivocally trustworthy brand that has stood the test of time. Distinctive in both style and values, it started to speak the language of its customers in a way that no other high street bank was able to. Few brands brought their customers into the day-to-day decision-making— this brand allowed The Co-op to start on that journey in a way that brands today can only dream of.’

Deborah Dawton Chief Executive, DBA

As a modern bank they would tackle head-on the issues society was facing and were quite happy to turn away business if organisations were involved with animal exploitation or needlessly damaging the environment. They would also not tolerate any dealings with countries that denied their citizens basic human rights. Arguably, they were the first large organisation to introduce social responsibility onto the high street.

A campaign was launched to communicate customer support for its ethical policy, which was becoming more comprehensive and detailed. The campaign featured a set of photographic icons created to symbolise each aspect of the policy. We introduced a 50/50 split to give more emphasis to the message and introduced a new strapline to emphasise customers’ involvement.

Having the support of their customers behind them, the bank was never afraid to stand up and be counted. The branding not only helped the bank shape its products but also led to collaborations with like-minded organisations, from the first biodegradable credit card with Greenpeace,to campaigns with organisations like Landmine Action. We were proud to be involved in helping create the bank’s brand, redefining what a bank and it’s customers, would, and would not, stand for – something that is more relevant than ever today.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe to our Magazine and News

Elephant in the Room logo
Elephant in the Room logo Elephant in the Room logo

Issue 2