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Meet the woman who brought gay hedgehog walking to banking

Meet the woman who brought gay hedgehog walking to banking

British firms have been slower than their American counterparts to promote themselves to the LGBT market.

But one bank is starting to change that. Lloyds, which has more UK customers than any of its rivals, has started to introduce a gay flavor to some of its advertising campaigns.

In particular, a TV commercial for Lloyds TSB screened late last year mixed a gay couple, taking their hedgehogs for a walk on a Segway, into its cast of characters.

And Lloyds Banking Group have also included a gay male couple in a campaign for Halifax – another brand they own. It’s all a follow-on from when they made marketing history in Britain with their first gay ad in 2010, featuring a gay couple buying their dream home.

The woman ultimately responsible for the new campaigns is Eva Eisenschimmel, Group Marketing Director for Lloyds.

When I visited her office in the heart of the City of London, she explained how they dreamt up the ideas and we discussed why more people aren’t following their example. She also promised that a campaign featuring gay women is coming soon.

How did you come up with the ideas for the Halifax and Lloyds ads?

The story sort of starts a couple of years ago in 2010 when we did the ‘dream home’ ad for Lloyds which caused quite a reaction, probably a disproportionate reaction. I think at the time we were probably the first bank [in the UK] to have a gay ad.

Proud as we were of that it was just one little piece of communication. What then followed was a real desire and a strategic decision to say our marketing needed to be overtly inclusive – not in a contrived way but a way that represented our customer base. So that has led, with a bit of a gap, to the two ads you have mentioned.

The Segway couple in the Lloyds ad – the idea is that this is just a slice of life. It’s two people out to walk a dog. In this case it can’t be a dog, because the campaign is about curious creatures, everything from armadillos through, so in this case they are walking a hedgehog. But it is a metaphor for every day life.

Halifax is the largest provider of loans for first-time [home] buyers. It has been doing that for 150 years. Normally the Halifax ads only have one person in them, so the key here is to have two people. Nobody knows, watching the ad, that the two people are a couple or just two mates. But it’s just to create that sense of balance and normal life.

It’s as simple as that and yet it’s not simple, and that’s the challenge.

You are straight and you are doing this with your mainstream marketing team. Did they have to seek a lot of advice from LGBT people? Did they find it hard to get the tone right?

They have worked hard to make sure they get the tone as right as possible. And we have worked with consultancies, on the original ‘dream house’ ad we worked with a [LGBT] consultancy called Out Now to get advice on language and positioning.

Clearly we have a really diverse workforce, so we have colleagues who are members of the LGBT community at Lloyds. What we have to challenge ourselves about is stereotyping in all forms. You can’t say any group is homogenous.

What feedback did you get from these two ads?

The ‘dream home’ ad got disproportionate feedback. It was really picked up on and talked about. We have had much less comment on this new ad and that has to be a good thing, it has to suggest we have progressed much more and it’s not so unusual to have an ad like this and have it make a big stir.

But most of the feedback is quite positive. I think people think we are trying to be normal and down to earth and straightforward. I’m not aware of much negative stuff this time.

Does this kind of thing help you show customers that you are modern and out of the mold of ‘pale, male and stale’ banking?

If they do that’s great but I don’t know that’s our rationale for doing it. We just want to be, as any big brand or business should be, inclusive. You can’t afford to suggest, like your characterization there, that we are only interested in white, middle-aged, male customers.

Whether it’s as good as being innovative or far out, I’m not sure. It’s just about keeping up. A lot of the criticism banks have received in recent times is of appearing out of touch with modern living. It just sits in this overall context of being up to date, recognizing that banks are hundreds of years old. These are institutions that have had to evolve over centuries, which I’m quite proud of actually.

We calculate that less than 0.05% of total marketing spend is targeted at the LGBT market. Why do you think there is such a big gap between a potentially lucrative market and that spend?

I haven’t done the maths on the percentage but it’s undoubtedly low. I suspect our spend is higher than that in Lloyds but it is low so your point is well made.

People do think very carefully about how to develop communications that are going to be effective and there are hoops we have to go through to justify spend. At the same time you have to make sure you don’t cause any offense or create a reaction that damages your reputation. I’ve worked in many sectors but never in a sector that has been under so much scrutiny as banking is right now.

And on top of that we are a mass-market business. I’ve worked in businesses that are much more niche and therefore could be more focused on certain target markets. When you are a mass-market business you have to be able to communicate in aggregate, collectively, to get the efficiency and effectiveness. Especially with TV advertising [because] the costs are immense.

So how do you tread that line of demonstrating you are modern and up to date, that you are inclusive and not excluding anyone and that you don’t kind of hack anybody off too much along the way? It’s quite a challenge.

Is that an excuse, no. And I think we really have to challenge ourselves. We have a couple of decent examples [of LGBT ads] where we have tried hard but we’ve got a heck of a long way to go.

One area that is often overlooked is lesbian and bisexual women. Are marketing people even more hesitant about the gay female market?

I’m really curious about that because I’ve challenged my team to come up with an ad with two women and I have been very overt about that in the last six months.

I would say we are really determined to do that but haven’t found the way to do that yet. But we will, give us a couple more months and it’ll happen.

I don’t think there’s a greater hesitancy, it’s cock-up rather than conspiracy if you like and we will get there. And I’m looking forward to it.

We have got an opportunity to target women, gay or straight. Women are making the big decisions in financial purchases – and they were in energy [Eisenschimmel’s previous industry]. So I’m passionate about targeting women.

Banks have attracted huge criticism in the last few years. So what else are you doing to be a better business?

We are really focused as a bank on responsible business. We have a code of personal responsibility [and] I carry it everywhere. It is one of the reasons I am very proud of Lloyds because we are working as hard as we can to behave properly.

My context for what we have spoken about here and communication to diverse segments of customers is set within that context of being a responsible business.

Barclays, one of your competitors, has recently been pressurized to take action in Uganda where they do a lot of business and where the ‘kill the gays bill’ is being pushed through parliament. And it’s been suggested that companies, some of whom have bigger budgets than some governments, are agents of international change. Is that part of your responsibility agenda or is it a step further than what you feel comfortable with?

Lloyds is probably fortunate in having largely a UK centered business which makes life a little bit simpler. But your general point is that the code I have mentioned is about using the power of business to be a force for good.

The example I can use, which is far less vicious an example, was an ethical question with the News of the World [a now closed and discredited UK tabloid newspaper].

When the questions started to emerge about the conduct of that publication, we stepped forwards very quickly to say we would not advertise with that organization for ethical reasons, at least until the situation was cleared up.

Was that actually an ethical decision or was it brand protection for you?

I am very comfortable it was a conscious positive choice. We weren’t, by any means, the most prominent advertiser, so we didn’t come under overt pressure.

But you can’t gloss over the legal aspect of taking a stance on a matter when a legal process has yet to run its course, as in that case.

And in the case you are describing with Barclays where you are getting involved in national politics and personal wellbeing, you are getting involved in matters of deep societal importance so you can not take that lightly. So it’s on a very different scale.

But responsible business, as described in our code, is that we have to take a leadership stance. We are Britain’s largest bank by numbers, but you don’t get leadership just by being the biggest, we want to be the best.

Watch the Lloyds TSB advert, featuring a gay couple, here: