Dubai: Some UAE banks are stepping up their marketing efforts enormously as they try to come out of the crisis with a competitive advantage, although their strategies on advertising and branding differ.

The Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank (ADCB) launched its latest campaign in May, taking confidence as its brand platform. Ambition is the new buzzword for the bank.

"One of the common attitudes that people in the UAE share is that everybody is here to try to better themselves," said Martin Scott, chief marketing officer at ADCB. "What is the fuel? Ambition."

Teaming up with Minneapolis-based advertising agency Fallon, the bank has branded products and services based on the concept. One such product is The Ambition Loan, a loan for parents to take out to pay for their children's education.

"Essentially it's just a loan but the way we packaged it and positioned it as parents want to educate their kids, there has been a phenomenal response," said Scott.

Unique positioning

The bank is hoping such a theme will set it apart from other institutions and a gloomy atmosphere in the market. By launching in May, noted Scott, they were right in the middle of dreadful sentiment.

"People are appreciating our tone of voice because there is so much negativity in the market," he said.

Advertising for ADCB this year has been more aggressive than before, with bosses mindful of exposure and lower costs.

"A recession environment creates a lot of opportunities for advertising," said Scott. "We did this because we knew we would have a competitive advantage. In terms of exposure, this has been a much more aggressive campaign."

Despite the plethora of ADCB billboards and banners across Abu Dhabi and Dubai — over 600 images in each city — the campaign cost less than its previous marketing drives. With real estate drying up, billboard advertising companies have been forced to drop prices.

"So what we have managed to achieve was to spend less but expose more," said Scott.

Exposure of a brand message, however, does not necessarily build relationships with customers, said Steven Vale, CEO of H2O New Media.

"Brand advertising is all well and good but these banks need to put in place the processes to get real feedback from their customers. Advertising in terms of a brand message doesn't build a real relationship with their customers. Something like ‘Ambition' is pretty generic, I think."

He suggests that banks should make use of free, online social resources to ask their customers what they want. Once they have actually asked customers what services and products they want, said Vale, then they can go ahead with effective branding and advertising.

360 Approach

RAK Bank plans on using a wider variety of platforms this winter to reach its audience. Beyond billboards, the bank's credit card and deposit account services and products can be seen everywhere from TV screens to bus shelters.

"We always use a 360 approach to all our marketing," said Bin Ali Malhotra, head of marketing at RAK Bank.

The bank plans to catch its target audience up to seven or eight times a day, she explained. Print advertisements will be seen in the morning papers, billboards and radio messages will expose RAK to commuters, e-mail updates will be sent throughout the day, and when potential customers arrive home, they will find RAK Bank on the TV.

"Even if we catch his attention just two or three times in a day our job is done," said Malhotra.

The bank's most recent campaign began in September and will run for the next three months. Sponsoring sporting events, using public transport and online gaming are major targets for the bank this year.

Throughout September and October RAK advertised on TV during cricket events such as the ICC Challenge, T20, and the India versus Australia series.

Previously staying away from advertising on public transport on a large scale, the bank is taking over Dubai's bus shelters for the next three months with its "win a luxury apartment" offer on savings accounts. As public transport in Dubai expands, Malhotra believes it is more viable as an advertising platform.

"Initially they had only three bus shelters, now it's fully developed," she said.

From November, RAK will be the first bank to advertise at Dubai Metro stations, and is now advertising on raised, roof-top signs on Abu Dhabi's taxis.

Online game

Launching an online game has helped bolster applications for RAK's Titanium credit card, said Malhotra. Potential customers are invited to play a RAK brand-themed game, aiming to keep them on the website for longer and persuade them to apply for the card.

"Of all our online responses, 25 per cent of those people who actually played the game then applied," said Malhotra.

It is commonly accepted that maintaining advertising budgets throughout a recession increases any business's market share when the economy recovers. As the current crisis has featured heavily, a fall in consumer confidence in financial institutions, research suggests this is increasingly important for banks.

A study conducted in the US by global information company Nielsen in March this year highlighted the link between financial institutions' advertising and consumer confidence.

When asked about their own banks, insurance companies and investment firms, 55 per cent of respondents who said they had seen more advertising for their institution said they had "complete confidence" in the soundness of that company. Amongst those who said they had seen less advertising, 18 per cent said they had such levels of faith.

Despite this, year-on-year spending on advertising by US financial institutions fell by over 13 per cent from 2007 to 2008. Spending fell by over 23 per cent when comparing the fourth quarter of 2008 with the same quarter of 2007.