BoM: study helped pinpoint attitudes

Take a market that in some ways is light years removed from others in Canada; mix in a competitor's massively dominant presence; add a widespread lack of corporate awareness; and garnish with neutral feelings about your corporation.Not, most would agree, a...

Take a market that in some ways is light years removed from others in Canada; mix in a competitor’s massively dominant presence; add a widespread lack of corporate awareness; and garnish with neutral feelings about your corporation.

Not, most would agree, a recipe that would entice many.

Raise profile

But that was the situation facing the Bank of Montreal when it decided three years ago to raise its profile and prospect for customers in Quebec, nominally its home province.

Consequently, says David Lavoie, senior manager of advertising, the bank undertook a ‘benchmark’ study in 1990 that asked one set of questions in English-speaking Canada and a separate set of questions in French-speaking Quebec.

Lavoie says this research was conducted with the aim of developing creative material, to discover perceptions about the bank, and to compare branch presence with the competition.


‘We needed to know from people what their perceptions were of the bank; how they thought of us. How they thought of us in relation to competitors, particularly the bigger competitors in the market like the Caisse Populaire.’

In fact, the competition in Quebec for any financial institution would be formidable given the size of the Caisse Populaire – 50% of the market – with about 1,500 branches throughout the province.

The Caisse Populaire has no equivalent outside Quebec; even its literally translated name ‘popular wicket’ or ‘popular cash register’ means nothing.

However, the Caisse does mean something to every second Quebecer who has banking needs.

One observer characterized the Caisse as being a bank for people with relatively simple demands. Also, it is the focus of some nationalist loyalty because it is so Quebec-oriented.

Lavoie says Bank of Montreal followed up its advertising research with creative testing, checking reaction from customers and staff. It then came up with an image campaign that the bank thought would separate it from the competition.

‘We were basing it on the fact that there were five or six key things that we knew we wanted to influence the market with, things that may seem very simple for our competitors, but for us they were a bit of a revelation,’ he says.

Lavoie says one of these keys was standing by the bank’s customers in tough economic times, adding a second was telling clients that front-line counter staff had the power to make some decisions immediately, such as waiving a service charge, for example.

‘Almost non-existent’

Jacques Larose, vice-president of client services at ad agency Publicite Martin, says his agency spent some time analyzing the Quebec banking market and found that the Bank of Montreal’s image was ‘almost non-existent.’

The venerable institution – it dates from 1875 – was seen as distant; an ‘Anglo bank’ overrepresented in the mostly English-speaking enclave of west Montreal with few French-speaking staff.

15 concepts

Larose says Publicite Martin tested 15 concepts aimed at bringing people back to the bank, noting that the idea of using a corporate spokesperson was rejected because the bank had to have its own personality.

‘Our job [was] to humanize the Bank of Montreal,’ he says.

The Royal Bank in Quebec has used actor Jean Lapointe for 12 years as its corporate spokesman, and although he has recently been dropped from tv spots, he remains prominent in print.


In English-speaking Canada, the only bank to use a celebrity spokesperson was the cibc, which hired singer Anne Murray some years ago to tell consumers they ‘Could Count on the Commerce.’

Lavoie says the advertising the Bank of Montreal used reflected its concern that its customers’ personal needs were taken care of.

Image advertising was created and launched in 1991 that emphasized the Quebecois angle and which played to emotions other than those prompted by dollars and cents.

English strategy

In English Canada, Lavoie continues, the bank’s advertising consists of testimonials and many more voiceovers.

He says the difference in the two approaches can be seen in the difference between the English theme, ‘We’re paying attention,’ and the French theme, which translates as ‘Beyond money, there’s people.’

Lavoie says ‘the personality that was behind our brand in the Quebec market was different than the English market.

‘It touched more upon the Quebec roots than it needed to in English Canada,’ he says.

For example, Lavoie says people wanted the bank’s tv commercials to show personalities that they could take to; that there was a sense of talking to a real person.

He says that real person – or the actor playing a real person – has not changed much despite the obvious urban/regional split in Quebec.

Unlike some companies which have to tailor campaigns for consumers in Montreal and, say, Shawinigan, Lavoie says with just a little tinkering the secondary markets get essentially the same message the bank sends to all Quebec consumers.

Larose says the Bank of Montreal is seen as an urban bank, with 65% to 70% of its business coming from greater Montreal.

Lavoie says the bank has 225 branches in Quebec, with 478 branches in Ontario and 150 more branches in b.c.

The Bank of Montreal is ranked third among banks measured in assets.

Lavoie says the image campaign the Bank of Montreal has used has been a success. He says it is now seen as ‘the most French of the Anglo banks.’

Larose says the new advertising coming on-stream for the bank will build on the image it has built up, but tv spots, for example, are now showing how the Bank of Montreal helps small Quebec businesses.

Also, Larose says, in January, tv commercials for the bank will show viewers the other services the banks offers.

He says for specific products, the Bank of Montreal uses radio, tv or print, depending on each situation, adding the bank also has specific advertising aimed at students.