This year, The Co-operative Bank celebrates its 150th anniversary and remains the only UK high street bank with a customer-led ethical policy, which was updated this year. The policy means that customers decide who the bank provides banking services to, as well as drive the decision making within the bank. “Our research shows non-customers want to be consulted in this way especially when it comes to ethics and this is something we want to put a spotlight on. The more transparency there is in the sector, the better,” comments Deborah Darling, director of brand, marketing and communications at The Co-operative Bank.
The update of policy prompted a new campaign created in collaboration with creative agency DENTSU CREATIVE, that puts the policy at its heart, calling on consumers to withdraw their money from banks that finance climate change. The collective fight against the climate crisis is what inspired The Co-operative Bank, which has not financed fossil fuel production for more than 20 years, to shed light on the fact that many customers aren’t aware of the journey their bank notes took.
The campaign film spotlights exactly this journey, using world-first projection mapping techniques in public environments, showing crumbling bank walls to reveal worldwide devastation caused by the fossil fuel industry, financed by a number of banks. The advert calls on customers to ask themselves if they are aware of where banks invest their money, echoing The Co-operative Bank’s policy. “It could be logging in the Amazon. Or coal-fired power stations. It’s time to Withdraw From This,” the voiceover in the spot urges viewers.
“We have worked with The Co-operative Bank for a number of years and know that 2022 is a big year for them. It felt like now is the right time to ensure their policy was at the heart of the campaign,” say Joe Stamp and Tom Prendergast, senior creatives from DENTSU CREATIVE. According to Deborah, the conversations between client and agency on the project began over a year ago. “We were surveying 50,000 of our customers ahead of updating our ethical policy and we wanted to make sure everything they told us, we acted on,” she says, “We talked a lot about how nonconsumers still don’t really think about who they bank with as an ethical decision in and of itself, or that their money has ethical power. The more research we did it became more apparent that once people understand this, they start to think differently.” Deborah explains that although the bank had looked into ‘the journey of money’ many times before, they never managed to find the creative that could bring the story to life in a compelling way, until now.
Creating the campaign itself took state-of-the-art projectors linked to a custom ATM to set off a real projection mapping show when a customer withdraws cash, which was all captured live. “The set was open so local people and passers-by could witness the walls cracking down and reveal the horrific scenes that were uncovering,” comments Joe. “The process involved creating the scenes from stock and then we built out the projections - we did this in part to limit actual shoot time. Sustainability was at the forefront in all our decision making.”
When the project started, client and agency had workshops as a joint team, in what DENTSU CREATIVE calls ‘an absolute collaboration’ every step of the way. The workshops also involved customers and stakeholders and once the teams had their initial creative, they carried out 121 interviews with customers, taking on board their insights in the process. “DENTSU CREATIVE pushed us creatively, but our marketing team have worked at the bank for a long time. We knew intuitively what would work well with our key audiences, so together the collaboration was effective,” shares Deborah.
Speaking of key audiences, it’s impossible to ignore the fact that in these times sustainability and ethics discourse might be taking a step back to be replaced by more immediately pressing financial worries. “We wanted to reach new customers,” explained Tom and Joe. “People who are making ethical decisions every day, but have not thought about money in this way before. But we also wanted to reach existing customers and colleagues, to make them proud that together with the bank they are achieving meaningful change. The Co-operative Bank carried out research specifically during the cost-of-living crisis to sense-check if climate change was still a priority with non-customers. It showed that it was, and consumers were actually more concerned that climate change will drop off the agenda. We are at a pivotal point in the debate - we have choices to make around energy - so it is a perfect time to be having these discussions.”
According to both Tom and Joe, education is the only way to keep the fire in the discussions and enrich them further. “Consumers are hungry for information, so they can make informed decisions. The same can be said when it comes to sustainable production, the industry is coming together to solve this collectively,” they explain. As one of the founding partners of Adgreen and having two team members on the advisory board, DENTSU CREATIVE have always been on a mission to shape and build a more sustainable version of the industry, which they believe happens only through collaboration. Tom says, “At every stage of creative decision making and the production process, we ask ourselves if there is a way to do it more sustainably? It’s about responsible decision making from every single person involved, from the smallest grain of an idea to the crafting and cultivating of that idea.”
And from the perspective of The Co-operative Bank, they have taken their commitment to the environment extremely seriously, having a continued downward trend in their operational greenhouse gas emissions and ensuring to continually reduce this, while being ‘beyond carbon neutral’ for over a decade, offsetting their operational carbon emission and an additional 10% to “address the impact of their business activities in the past.” Indeed, The Co-operative Bank finds itself in a unique position, where their customer-led ethical policy stands out as their key differentiator and drives their brand. “We are also an ambassador of Zero Hour, the campaign to see the climate and ecology bill become law. This private member’s bill sets out a plan to address the full extent of the climate and nature crisis in the UK, so again this is a timely reminder on why it is so important to act immediately, and especially as there is a real political spotlight on the future energy plan for the UK,” says Deborah.
The way she sees it, we make hundreds of ethical decisions every day. “This campaign is about lifting the lid on this issue, so many more people will consider it up front and think about the impact of their decisions,” she continues, “Our customers have had this knowledge for a long time now. And they are proud to say who they bank with. We want to grow the sustainable banking movement and hopefully this will help accelerate that.”
This is also why the campaign urges consumers to visit Bank.Green, an independent growing movement that aims to put pressure on banks to divest from fossil fuels. Their website provides consumers with the necessary information and easily accessible data that shows the fossil fuel investment practices of banks. Deborah says,“You can then sign up to pledge that you will not fund fossil fuels by moving your money away from climate crisis funders. We hope that our campaign will encourage more people to join the movement, as we know the power of collective co-operative action.”