Every Big Six bank in Canada is angling for a greater share of the market through attempts to distinguish itself by injecting a bit of personality and originality in its advertising campaigns, many of which are ubiquitous.

For example, take Toronto-based Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce’s (CIBC) “lovable” mascot, Percy the Penguin. Then, there’s Toronto-based Bank of Nova Scotia’s tag line: “You’re richer than you think,” which is included in just about every one of the bank’s advertising campaigns. And let’s not forget Arbie, Toronto-based Royal Bank of Canada’s (RBC) blue-suited, bowler hat-wearing cartoon banker.

Although such advertising campaigns matter to advisors for the awareness generated among the public, most advisors surveyed for this year’s Report Card on Banks said their banks have much work to do and rated their firms lower in the “firm’s consumer advertising” category.

Specifically, advisors with Bank of Montreal, RBC and TD Canada Trust, all based in Toronto, rated their firm’s advertising lower by half a point or more, while advisors with Montreal-based National Bank of Canada gave their bank the lowest rating in the category. As a result, these lacklustre scores led to the category’s overall average performance rating dropping to 7.9 from 8.4 year-over-year.

Although sources of dissatisfaction varied, advisors cited a lack of localized advertising, campaigns that are too generic or bland, and greater focus on other services – namely, the mortgage business – vs financial planning as the key reasons for their discontent.

That last point is one that was brought up by many TD advisors, who criticized their bank for not promoting financial planning services as heavily as mortgages. In turn, the bank saw its rating in the consumer advertising category drop to 6.9, the second-lowest in the Report Card, from 8.8 last year. In fact, many TD advisors said that rolling out campaigns that would distinguish their role would help advisors greatly.

“It would be nice if they did a little bit more to market the financial planning side. The advertising needs to be more focused,” says a TD advisor in Ontario.

TD, for its part, overhauled its website and marketing materials for TD Wealth Financial Planning in recent years, says Lee Bennett, the division’s senior vice president. She notes that a new landing page was created for TD Wealth with ad banners to promote financial planning.

“[The website’s ads] are really focused on goal-based [financial] planning,” she says. “We’re not marketing TD; we’re talking to clients about what’s important to them and what they can do to achieve their goals.”

TD’s focus has been to develop the website as a research tool, while simultaneously mounting splashy print campaigns in big markets and, on a smaller scale, running community events to promote the bank’s services, Bennett explains.

“Today, on average, our planners have one referral per month that comes in from the website as a result of its ease and simplicity,” Bennett adds.

Some TD advisors do appreciate that the bank is more focused on beefing up its online presence.

“They’re doing a lot more on social media. You see TD popping up here and there,” says an advisor on the Prairies. “That’s where you should see marketing efforts.”

National Bank also is more focused on moving its advertising online, adopting a “digital first” strategy, says Annamaria Testani, the bank’s vice president of national sales.

However, Testani suggests, advisors have an old-school understanding of advertising, in that they expect expensive TV spots or print campaigns.

“Most [advisors] still compare our activities to hard print, but hard print is not the way to go,” she says. “We’ve spent an enormous amount of money on what we call our ‘web campaigns’.”

Still, there’s a bigger issue that’s the cause for National Bank’s category-worst performance rating of 6.5 – the long-standing concern among advisors outside the bank’s home province of Quebec that there’s limited visibility of the bank in their region. Specifically, many National Bank advisors in Ontario said the bank doesn’t promote its brand in their province.

“[The bank] says it doesn’t have a budget. [Advertising] has been limited in Ontario. [Brand recognition] would make my job easier,” says a National Bank advisor in Ontario.

The bank recognizes that Ontario is one of its fastest-growing markets and is devoting more resources toward raising its profile in the province. But seeing the benefits to advisors may take time, Testani says: “We’ve spent the money. We’re doing it. It just hasn’t necessarily been recognized yet.”

Meanwhile, advisors with RBC and TD cited a similar concern: that the mortgage side of the banking business gets promoted more than the financial planning services in each bank’s advertising campaigns.

“[The bank] could do a bit more for the financial planning brand,” says an RBC advisor in Atlantic Canada. “There’s not a lot of stuff. The mortgaging brand gets more exposure.”

Michael Walker, vice president and head of branch investments with RBC, says the bank’s approach has been not to “overtly push what RBC has and to focus on the client [instead].” Specifically, he points to a series of web ads that focus on client scenarios and which profile the role of a financial planner as that role relates to conversations about retirement.

“Although an ad may not be a financial planning ad, it showcases what our financial planners do and deliver for our clients,” Walker says.

Although most firms struggled in the advertising category, CIBC stood out among its peers, earning the highest performance rating of 9.4. In particular, CIBC advisors lauded the bank for getting back on track over the past three years and introducing Percy the Penguin.

In fact, there were many glowing remarks about the flightless bird, which is a fixture on all of the bank’s marketing. Advisors said the firm has been making a greater push for brand recognition, and having Percy personalizes the bank as being more than a faceless entity.

“The penguin is cute. If you asked me three years ago, I wouldn’t have rated [the advertising category] as highly,” says a CIBC advisor in Ontario. “We’ve come a long way.”

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