Citibank Willingly Gives Up Coveted Brand Space

The Difference Between the Citibank themeline and an Advertising Tag Line

By Tom Dougherty

Citibank themeline is just trite
Citibank had gold but did not realize it

The two phrases are often confused and as a result, very few brands have a brand theme-line today. Instead, they move as wildly as the wind blows and they change their brand focus as often as they change ad agencies (every 2.3 years). To bad for them, good news for those that knows better. A brand theme-line is locked into the corporate logo and is designed as part of the mark. Its usage, placement, color, font choice, and size are all spelled out in the corporate identity standards manual and the logo should never appear without it.

A brand theme-line is forever. It needs to be refreshed to take advantage of sea changes in the market space but it is a strategic element to the brand’s success and promise. An advertising tag line is a tactical element that is designed to dimensionalize the brand’s benefit in a specific advertising campaign. It changes regularly (although more often than it should) to reflect the newness of a campaign. Most often, the advertising tag line is a benefit statement. The Brand theme-line is a permanent equity. (Read a market study on banks here)

Developing a Brand Theme-Line

Remember: Brand belongs to the customer you wish to influence and as a result, the brand theme-line needs to be in the customer’s voice. It identifies who they are when they use the brand and it brings a loud claim of the equity that the brand owns. For example, Telworx, Inc. has a brand theme-line of immediate results. This is not a campaign tag line. It expresses the brand’s ownership of immediacy and the reflection of the customer that wants the category need to be taken “off of their plates.” It answers the question of “Who are you when you use the Telworx brand” by emphatically stating that — “I am a person whose time is valuable and demand immediate answers and immediate results.”

Regardless of the advertising campaign that Telworx embarks on in its future, the brand will always promise that equity to those that see them as important.

It Can Get Confusing

Sometimes, when looking from the outside in we (Stealing Share) give companies more credit then they deserve. We see a brand theme that seems so right, and then watch it change into a meaningless tag line that switches with a new campaign.

Citibank themeline is really a tag line
I would rather live richly

The brand of Citibank had the makings of a brand with their live richly theme not long ago — if their analysis and strategy had revealed an aspirational need amongst the target audience to do just that. It was prized real estate for their brand to stake a claim. As a brand theme-line, it would have presented an opportunity for Citi to demonstrate its live richly brand in every product and service they offered — thus reinforcing all of their branded products as being part of the successful and richly living person’s life. Suddenly, a credit card is more than just a plastic charge card, it is a means to “live richly” and they could have, for example, developed partnerships with high-end luxury goods manufacturers that enabled the “richly living” customers to partake in a little bit more of the good life.

It is the responsibility of the brand to direct everything that it does and offers. The brand needs to develop a means to pay off the differentiating equity that they OWN. So why did Citibank choose to regard their equity as a tag line? One can only guess. Maybe they have NO real brand or maybe they are letting the tail wag the dog and are allowing the advertising agency to throw the baby out with the bath water. Were results not what they anticipated? Could the fault reside with the execution and focus and not the equity. Sadly, we will never know. They have parted company with the beginnings of a real brand theme.

From the International Herald Tribune — ”NEW YORK: For years, Citigroup has promised its customers better service and its investors better results. Now, Citigroup is pitching a new message: “Let’s Get It Done.” Citigroup is expected to introduce the tagline and advertising campaign on May 6 in the company’s first global branding effort since it was formed nearly a decade ago. The campaign, with ads on television, online and in major publications in 10 markets, will cost up to $30 million for the first two months, according to a person close to the situation. The ads are the latest in Citigroup’s rebranding effort that began last year.”

What is the problem with “Let’s Get It Done”? Worse still the brand of Citibank changed again. This time to Citi Never Sleeps. Nothing as an advertising tag line. However, the target audience seems vastly different. “Living Richly,” on its surface appeals to everyone that aspires to success. “Let’s get it done” sounds suspiciously like a bumpkin, with thumbs planted firmly in his suspenders and a stalk of wheat protruding from his mouth stating emphatically…”lets git it dun.” Citi Never Sleeps seems false and a clever cliche.

Had Citi understood the brand they were building, “getting it done” or “Citi Never Sleeps” would have dovetailed nicely into “living richly.” As a tactic, not a strategy, the tag line would have thrived very nicely along side the brand theme. Follow this logic just for a moment — “Let’s get it done (urgency) to live richly (the end result). What they have done instead is planted the brand flag on process rather than purpose and have ignored precept (the customers self-identifying beliefs) altogether.

Advertising Agencies (and Most Branding Companies) Don’t get It

Keep the children’s hands away from the family jewels and instead let them choose from the cookie jar. Great brands are hard to come by. It is even more of a tragedy when a company had one and never realized it. Chase and Bank of America should look closely at this suddenly open opportunity.