Lessons learnt by local banks

A row of UOB, DBS and OCBC automated bank teller machines in Singapore.
A row of UOB, DBS and OCBC automated bank teller machines in Singapore. PHOTO: REUTERS

In the battle for consumer attention, the banking industry arguably has it tougher than most.

With credit cards, loans and deposit accounts that many consumers might not be able to tell apart, it is more important than ever to stand out from the crowd and make a real impression.

Looking at ads in public spaces, the newspapers and online, it is easy to see that banks are some of the biggest ad spenders in Singapore.

Naturally, as more and more consumers have moved online for their news and entertainment, so have banking ads, and several banks whom The Sunday Times spoke to said that although their digital advertising journey has not always been smooth, they are still increasing their digital ad spend.

Many lessons have been learnt along the way, especially about the risks of programmatic advertising, where ads are automatically placed onto thousands of websites at once, say the banks, which declined to be named.

One bank says that one of its ads promoting a travel card was found next to an online article written by a woman about a personal tragedy in which her husband had died in a hiking accident.

Two other banks have had their ads end up on a site that included videos of hardline preachers who were sympathetic to terrorist groups.

WATCH THAT DIGITAL SPACE

Digital media throughput is growing rapidly across the world, and while no one is able to guarantee a 100 per cent error-free placement, there is a need to have very clear controls in place to safeguard the brand.''

MS ALICE FOK, Citibank Singapore's customer franchise director.

 
 
 

Another found its ads automatically placed on unlicensed content-streaming sites.

As a result, every dollar that banks spend on digital advertising now comes with an ever-stricter set of rules.

One of the banks says it has an ever-growing list of categories, website addresses and keywords that have been blacklisted.

It also works with a media agency that has a tool that automatically scans the content of millions of sites each day before buying ad space on them.

Another problem that many digital ad buyers face is that of clickbots. They may have paid for 100,000 clicks on their ad, but a significant portion of those clicks may have come from robots, not humans.

One of the banks says it has found that most bots have IP addresses based in the United States or India.

"So if an ad for a local home loan is suddenly receiving lots of clicks from the US, we know that's a red flag," the spokesman says.

Still, banks are continuing to increase their digital ad spend because that is where their consumers are.

"Digital media throughput is growing rapidly across the world, and while no one is able to guarantee a 100 per cent error-free placement, there is a need to have very clear controls in place to safeguard the brand," says Citibank Singapore's customer franchise director, Ms Alice Fok.

"Such controls are ongoing and a continuous exercise, given the fast-evolving digital landscape."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 10, 2017, with the headline 'Lessons learnt by local banks'. Print Edition | Subscribe