When is someone going to cancel Steve’s account?

As fans of Flight of the Conchords will verify, the name ‘Steve’ can be an anathema.

However, all the Steves in the world with negative connotations pale in comparison to a fictional Steve to whom FNB gave birth during 2011.

I can’t recall the last time I drove to and from work without hearing the antagonising voice of Steve, the call centre operator fronting FNB’s current and seemingly endless campaign.

Over the last 12 months I, along with millions of others, have had to endure the stress of bumper-to-bumper rush-hour traffic with this cretin popping out the speakers every 15 minutes. Change the frequency and he materialises again, like the radio equivalent of Poltergeist.

It takes me 30-40 minutes to heave myself along with the rest of the herd in order to get to work, and the same time back again. In this period I inevitably hear Steve bleating away for over a minute on at least three occasions during commercial breaks, making a grand total of at no less than six times in one day.

This form of classical conditioning is more likely to make me foam at the mouth than salivate.

Apparently one or two unhinged types find him funny. To each their own, but if you’re the sort to get balls ache from laughing like a twat at a banking commercial, then frankly you need to get out more.

If you’ve been fortunate enough to dodge this bullet so far click here to hear what I’m talking about.

Which demographic is FNB aiming for? Apparently anyone and everyone, and if the statistics are to be believed the campaign has netted a considerable number of new clients.

But pretention mixed with overconfidence make for stinky cologne in the banking and corporate world, particularly on those still residing in the banking penthouses who, despite the global economic crisis, continue to eat Berkshire Hathaway shares and piss Johnny Walker.

The success of the Steve campaign is relative and open to interpretation.

FNB’s Head of Marketing: Credit Card & Vehicle Finance Barrett Whiteford claims that the bank at one time experienced an initial 40% increase in sales. I’m buggered if I’m going to waste my week investigating and analysing FNB credit card sales over the past year, particularly when ‘their man Steve’ has vexed me to the point of boycotting the bank entirely.

The Radio Advertising Bureau (RAB) used FNB’s Steve campaign as a case study and published its findings in September 2011. Although this was six months into the campaign, Whiteford was quick to point out its runaway success thanks to the medium of radio, but somewhere along the line it seems that the man became a little confused.

Here are some of the main points he made:  (Excuse the random interjections.)

“For us at FNB, the 30 second ad died long ago. We’re now flighting 45, 60, 84 second long ads. An ad has to be as long as it takes to get the message across.

Wrong. If you are unable to get your message across in 30 seconds or under, you need a new advertising agency. Don’t impose your inability to be concise or communicate effectively on the potential consumer. Sure, you have 10 or so seconds of compliance to cram in, but that doesn’t mean you have to pass that time cost on to the listener.

“Radio is something you get involved with from the onset. It’s not something you leave to an engineer to do. Radio is more important than TV because it allows us to reach people directly.

I think what is implied here, assuming he didn’t pluck this from a cue card, is that radio has greater scope, particularly in South Africa and other developing nations where more people can afford or have access to a radio than television. Also, have fun trying to record and broadcast your bumptious nonsense without a station engineer at hand.

“Don’t let the duration of the spot hamper the creativity.

Agreed. So keep it to 30 seconds and create your heart out.

“Media maketh the spot.


“Our competitors were quiet and we didn’t hold back.”

No shit.

“There’s no such as thing as too much exposure.”

Disagree. Too much exposure cheapens your product, makes you sound desperate and like a perpetual nag. Furthermore it becomes less like advertising and more like aural spam.

“We decided that in the first hour, listeners should at least hear 2 to 3 ads. “


“Stop painting by numbers. It has to be entertaining for the listener.”

Epic fail.

“Be topical.

Epic fail.

“If you can’t be topical, be entertaining.

Again …

“Everyone loves a soapie. “

No they do not, orator extraordinaire, they do not like a ******* soapie!

I know full well there’s bugger all I can say or do to ensure that Steve is crammed back up whoever’s backside he fell out of, but I would advise FNB to perhaps provide some media training to its spokespeople, as well as a revised script to prevent them from unleashing a barrage of bollocks, as evidenced above.

If you want to weigh up the pros and cons of the purportedly superior services the campaign advertises, then check out Tiffany Markham’s experience of what lies beyond the repugnant façade. She makes a far more diligent and insightful case in that respect than I am currently willing to.

I’m not here to slander FNB – far from it, although I refuse to let Whiteford’s aforementioned comments slide. But the fact remains that through an aggressive and invasive marketing strategy FNB has lost at least one potential customer. Me. One missed customer is one too many, if there’s any truth to the old adage.

The Steve adverts demonstrate that telemarketing sales techniques are thoughtless and abusive, but they have done so in an equally abusive fashion, not to mention being an insult to prospective clients’ intelligence.  A laugh and joke from a script with more spin than a merry-go-round simply isn’t going to cut it.

Until such time as Steve quits the airwaves I will continue to subconsciously and consciously associate FNB with a negative and impersonal approach that its competitors use, but which it apparently doesn’t itself.

Sure, Steve has become a poster child for an outdated, cheap and lazy form of customer engagement. But these ads do little more than dangle the carrot of possibly improved service. But if you’ve already repulsed your prospective client how will they ever know? Well this is one donkey that refuses to bite.

A carefully crafted marketing campaign should have aim to have all bases covered. Regrettably, the one in question has overlooked the possibility that it may have turned off more potential customers than it will gain, impressive statistics aside. Rather than revelling in quick-fix glory it’s time to conduct some market research to discredit this theory.

But for now, how can you help me? Keep it short, and set aside Steve.

Frisco Rosso

With more tension than your mother’s suspension, I am Frisco Rosso. I’m likely to deliver a few lines worth at any given moment regarding film, music, sport, books and anything morally unsound that strikes a blow between the eyes in the name of entertainment.


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