Australian Journal of Cultural Studies
Vol. 1 No. 1, May 1983

Naming and marketing the new banks

Bill Bonney

This paper is about corporate appropriation of the cultural practice of naming and the use of names in corporate advertising. It focuses particularly on the nam ing and marketing of two new Australian commercial banks which were launch ed following two mergers negotiated in 1982. The Bank of NSW and the Com mercial Bank of Australia formally merged on 1st October 1982 and the new bank, named Westpac Banking Corporation but abbreviated to Westpac in the com pany logo and in the advertising campaign, was launched on that day. The other merger, between the National Bank of Australasia and the Commercial Banking Company of Sydney, was consummated on 1st January 1983 and the new bank was given the cumbersome name National Commercial Banking Corporation of Australia, though this is abbreviated to National Australia Bank in the logo and in the publicity.

It is evident that the two banks opted for two quite different kinds of name, the one inventing an entirely new name and adopting a logo in which it is not identified as a bank, and the other constructing a descriptive name and logo whose elements all have established meanings. This may seem a difference with little significance. What, after all, it may be said, is in a name? But corporate names are not lightly chosen, and they figure with increasing prominence in pro motional campaigns. Westpac, for example, reports that it hired "Australia's foremost corporate identity designer" to work on "both our new name and our new corporate identity". Nor have corporate naming practices remained static. For reasons to be discussed later and having to do with the operations of cor porations in contemporary capitalism, the use of non-descriptive names, such as Westpac, as against descriptive names, such as National Australia Bank, has been a growing practice over the past 10-20 years.

Among other things, it allows corporations so named to vary their corporate identities from time to time to suit their varying corporate strategies. Thus, whereas the National Australia Bank has, by its choice of name, positioned itself firmly as a bank—i.e., as a single industry corporation, as specialists in bank ing, Westpac is so named as to allow the corporation to pursue, should cir cumstances be opportune, a policy of diversification. Furthermore, it is not only corporations' perceptions concerning their possible future operations that can be read in their choice of names. Corporate names are also indicative of the assessments made by corporate marketers—the manufacturers of corporate identities—of the currents running in the cultural environment(s) of their target audience(s). By its choice of name and through its advertising campaign which associates the name with an array of distinctively Australian imagery, the Na tional Australia Bank has sought to tap what its marketers perceive as a strong current of nationalism in contemporary Australian culture. Westpac, on the other hand, apart from the preservation of the distinctive W in its logo, launched itself in a way which distances itself from its history and represented itself as something entirely new in banking. In the four 60 second television commercials produced for the launching, which are discussed below, the word 'Australian' occurs only


three times and only a small proportion of the imagery is identifiably Australian. It is rather ironic that the non-nationalistic Westpac campaign should have been conducted by the Australian-owned advertising agency, Monahan Dayman Adams, while the highly nationalistic launching of the National Australia Bank was handled by the American-based transnational advertising agency, J. Walter Thompson. It also appears, if industry judgements are any indication, that the Westpac campaign, despite the massive publicity it received, has been less than a resounding success. Indeed, in a survey of agency creative directors reported in the trade journal Advertising News, several rated the television campaign the worst of the year, and in most cases did so on the ground that they could not tell what it was 'getting at', what it was 'saying'. But, in any case, the two banks are now in operation. The mergers which gave rise to them, and their launchings, did not happen in a vacuum but were the result of changes, to be discussed below in the structural-economic situation of banks in Australia. Nor are these the on ly changes to which the banks are subject. They are in the process of being de regulated, and that changes the range and character of their operations. In turn, this will result in changes in their cultural position, in what they mean to people. Thus, name changes are not the only cultural changes taking place in banking. But nor are the name changes themselves without considerable significance.

The Two Launchings

Though the exact size of the budgets has not been made public, it is known that the Westpac advertising account awarded to MDA (for one year) was worth at least $10 million. The NAB account was worth less than half that amount. Both campaigns involve both print and television. The NAB campaign emphasises con tinuity and service. The print advertisements feature photographs of bank staff: the 'team' outside a local branch under the new logo or, in the Financial Review, a full page headed 'Not just a bigger bank, we're building a better bank' with a display of 16 friendly bank faces, drawn mainly from categories of special in terest to that paper's readership: managers, travel specialists, money market and corporate services specialists. The Westpac campaign, in marked contrast, em phasises change and technology. One full page newspaper advertisement, for example, features a video recorder and monitor which displays the text 'Normal service will never be resumed' and is connected by a thin line traversing a large area of blank space to a video camera. Blank space is used in most of their newspaper advertisements, corresponding to the strategy adopted in the televi sion advertisements discussed shortly, of minimising content, information or 'messages', and concentrating almost entirely on display. The Westpac newspaper advertisements all accompany the displayed name with the pnrase 'Now there's competition', a puzzling piece of 'information' in the light of the fact that the merger which gave rise to the bank reduced the number of banks. In line with its emphasis on change and the introduction of competition and hence diversity, the Westpac launching includes also a much-publicised change of policy with regard to employees' dress: uniforms are replaced by 'wardrobes', a range of outfits specially designed by Adele Weiss.

In accordance with its emphasis on continuity, the NAB ran a 30 second pre launch television commercial featuring the merger and representing it, through the use of BHP-like imagery about forging, as a source of strength, making not only a bigger, but also a better bank. This was followed up with a 45 second commercial


and several 15 second ones utilising an array of Australian imagery—bank manager in shirt sleeves, the Australian flag, a country bank in bright sunlight, a wind mill in a paddock (with the star from the logo on the hub), a sail boat, a quarry, and so on. The red seven point star in the logo, which also in cludes the shortened name, is the star below the Union Jack in the Australian flag. Consistent, also, with the nationalism of the television campaign is the fact the NAB targets a single audience, not different audience segments. Nationalism implies unity and it would appear inconsistent to utilise that theme and at the same time address separate audiences. To opt to tap the nationalistic current in a culture is necessarily to opt to allow nationalism to carry the entire weight of the campaign. The NAB campaign belongs to that familiar genre of television promotions which do just that.

Like the NAB, Westpac have used a red graphic in the logo, in this case the familiar 'Wales' W. This is virtually the only connection with the bank's history in Westpac's television campaign. In eschewing nationalism as a theme, this cam paign avoids attempting to construct its audience as a single unity. Instead, there are four 60 second commercials addressed to four distinct but partly overlapp ing constructed unities: youth, families, corporations and the travel market. All four commercials have the same general structure. They begin with a series of relatively slow-moving images with a voice-over, and then the pace quickens with the name Westpac rapidly intercut with a series of images while a voice sings a jingle which varies slightly from commercial to commercial but features the repeated line 'This is your sign'. All four also use the same dominant colours the red of the W and Westpac's other colour, silver (a silvery blue on television), which the 'corporate identity designer' says 'ties in with the need to present Westpac as a modern sophisticated group'. In all but the youth commercial, whose second half contrasts the 80s with the 60s and utilises electronic sound of the late 70s, the music is innocuous and unmemorable with the emphasis on the Iyrics. The voice-over in the first half of each commercial bears as close a resemblance to the voice of Malcolm Fraser reading a political speech as per missible given the prohibition against imitating actual identities. Evidently it is thought that the Fraser voice is the sound for the 80s!

The commercial aimed at the youth market begins with a series of representa tions of the 60s: a young man taking out a young woman in an early model Holden, having collected her at her suburban parents' house with the mother saying 'Have


a nice time, dear'. All the images show couples and foreground the family, and the voice-over says: 'Remember the early 60s, remember how we thought that the world would always be as carefree and easy as it was then. No one worried about inflation or the economy or interest rates. Australian banks were well suited to those uncomplicated years'. Then the pace quickens the voice, more urgent ly, says: 'But times change. Now there's a bank that's in touch with today's needs. Westpac was created for these times'. Westpac is separated from its past- it is new, created. It is therefore appropriate to 'these times', represented as having no historical connection with the 60s. Close-ups of the Holden give way to a shot of a 4WD vehicle being driven into the distance, and all the images of people of 'these times', except for one sordid street scene, are of people alone, never in couples. The family and the security it represented has disappeared, and it is precisely into the vacuum thus created that the bank insinuates itself. Whereas it was the suburban mother who in the opening shot said 'Have a nice time, dear', in the final shot it is the bank, through the agency of a teller, that says 'Have a nice day'. The bank as the surrogate mother for fragmented 80s youth.

The rapid sequence of 80s images is intercut with the red W and the name Westpac both of which are repeated several times. While this is happening, the voice-over commentary gives way to the song: 'This is your sign for the times. Times have changed ... It's your sign and it says that your bank changes with you. This is your sign ...' These same Iyrics, except for minor tense changes, are used in the commercial aimed at the corporate market. This commercial, which displays a series of images of the modern office with business executives shown


in silhouette and new technologies foregrounded, as well as some small business and farm images, uses the following voice-over text: 'The businesses that will succeed in the next decade are the businesses prepared for change. These com petitive times demand a whole new way of looking at investment and borrowing, at taxation and inflation, at communications. Yesterday's banks were never equip ped for competitive times like these. Westpac was created for these times'. Cor porations, like youth, have changed and need to change, and 'your bank changes with you'. But about how the bank has changed, and what it will do that other banks don't also do, nothing is said or shown. Instead, the new name is repeatedly flashed on the screen and packaged to mean unspecified change beneficial to 'you'.

In the other two commercials the Iyrics are varied slightly to fit with the voice over text, but in both cases Westpac is presented as 'your sign for the times'. In the one aimed at families, the visuals contrast a small child's familiarity with new technology (video games) with a grand-mother's unfamiliarity with it while the voice-over says 'These changing times affect everyone of us. Hardly a day passes without seeing some change or achievement that our grandparents would never have even considered. These times also mean that you and your family will soon need to ask things of your bank that yesterday's banks were never equip ped to answer. Westpac will have these answers'. Accordingly the song includes: 'Jump ahead in everything you do. It's your sign for those times when you need a bank behind you ..Westpac is right behind you'. Nothing, however, is said about how Westpac will provide answers to new questions which other banks


cannot provide. Indeed, no hint is given as to what the new questions might be especially as the family images intercut with the bank logo are quite conven tional ones, including a final image of a new father in a maternity ward saying 'That's my kid'.

The commercial aimed at the travel market begins with a shot of the earth osten sibly seen across the cratered surface of the moon, and the voice-over says 'There was a time when many Australians thought the world ended just north of Cairns. But times change. Now our businesses compete internationally. We travel more, and increasingly we see ourselves as part of a much larger world. For this ex panding Australian outlook we created Westpac. Now there's a bank that takes you places internationally', and the Iyrics say 'Westpac will be there with you'. The logo is intercut with a series of mainly familiar foreign images, but neither the imagery nor the verbal text gives any indication of how Westpac's travel ser vices differ, or will differ, f rom those already available. Like a stereotypic political speech, which all four voice-overs resemble, there is conviction and authority but no factual content.

It should, of course, not be surprising to find that a television commercial con tains no factual content. However, what marketing and advertising are all about is difterentiation, distinguishing the thing being marketed from its competitors. For reasons to be discussed in the next section, product and price differentia tion are virtually non-existent in many industries. Much advertising, therefore, is concerned with the manufacture of difference3. Often this takes the form of market segmentation, positioning a product as being for this sort of person or this sort of occasion rather than that. But positioning is not the only way of manufacturing difference and is inappropriate where a product, or corporation, is being marketed to an undifferentiated audience (characteristic of television) or to a range of market segments. In a large, and no doubt increasing, number of cases the differences produced by advertising are nothing but differences in the advertisements themselves: what distinguishes one brand of mass market cigarette from another, apart from the brand name, is the advertising, the fact that the one is associated with this advertisement and the other with that. And in all such cases, it is the name of the product, or corporation, rather than the product or corporation itself, that is foregrounded. It is for the name, rather than what it stands for, that the difference is manufactured.

The Westpac commercials are a clear illustration. Despite its didactic tone, the voice-over says nothing about the bank or how it differs from other banks, except for the vague claim that it is into change. Nor is the bank positioned in any particular market segment. What the commercials primarily do is repeatedly display the namellogo in association with a trivial jingle and series of images which get attached to the name/logo but say nothing of a factual kind about the corporation itself. There can be no doubt that advertising of this kind—adver tising which consists in packaging names for audiences, for 'you' constitutes a major trend in advertising practices and marketing strategies. The next sec tions explore some of the reasons for it, which lie in the cultural practice of naming itself and certain aspects of the structure of corporate capitalism. The final sec tion looks at the current situation of commercial banks in Australia, the reasons for the mergers and the contradictions and uncertainities behind the differences in the naming and marketing options taken by the two new banks.


There is, however, a further point which should be made about the Westpac commercials and the trend they represent. The emphasis is not merely on the display of the corporate name, but on its repeated display within the one com mercial. Repetition, of course, though especially concentrated in these commer cials, is characteristic of all commercials and virtually all advertising. But what is noteworthy in this case and in most display advertising advertisements around sports fields, for example—is what is displayed repeatedly. Not a piece of in formation or even, in many cases, a slogan. Increasingly, the centrepiece of repeated displays is a name/logo. Evidently part of the received wisdom in the advertising industry is that repeated exposure to names in favourable en vironments will produce the appropriate kind of salivation. It is not clear whether crude behaviourism was ever superseded in the advertising industry by more sophisticated theories of learning and behaviour. But it seems clear now that Pavlov is alive and well and living in the creative departments of advertising agencies.

Corporate Names and Corporate Advertising

Naming is one of the oldest and most prevalent of cultural practices. Naming, particularly of people and places, occurs across a huge range of cultures, though no doubt with varying significance and signification. In modern industrial societies, names are given to such diverse entities as: children, streets, pets, rock groups, ships, cities and towns, racehorses, suburbs, farms, aircraft, houses, sports teams, country retreats, types of toothpastes, soap powders, cars and other manufactured commodities, rivers, countries, yachts and corporations. In many of these cases, names-are not merely given, but are also registered, thus becoming the official means of identification of their bearer. They are not, however, merely means of identification. If they were, any name would be as good as any other provided it was not referentially ambiguous, and the energy characteristically expended in the selection of names, for objects of affection and possession such as pets and babies as well as for corporations and marketed products, would be directed elsewhere. With the exception of wholly new or in vented names, to be discussed shortly, names have not only a reference but also a sense. Their reference is the entity they refer to, the object to which the name is given and which in consequence is the bearer of the name. Their sense, on the other hand, is what they mean, and this includes the associations, implica tions and connotations they carry, or come to carry, as well as any descriptive content the name, or parts of the name, may have. The referring relation—the namelnamed relation—is characteristically established by an act of naming, which may be an elaborate ceremony, as in the naming of ships, or a board meeting and associated bureaucratic procedures, as in the case of naming a cor poration. Nothing has a name until it is given one, and once a thing has been given a name it retains that name until such time as there is an act of re-naming. Naming is an event, not a process. But the acquisnion by a name of a sense is a process, not an event. It is something that takes place over time, often without the intervention of any particular agency, though such intervention is precisely the point of featuring names in advertising campaigns. An advertising agency, in constructing an 'image' or an 'identity' for a corporation or a product by focussing on its name, is primarily concerned with the production or transformation of a sense for the name, not with the establishment or highlighting of the rela ti~n hQtw~Pn th~ name and its bearer. Indeed. the actual bearer of the name barely


figures at all. The over-riding objective is to establish a certain sense for the name, and two relations between the target audience and the name/sense: recognition and what can roughly be described as a positive attitude. It is useful to distinguish, as has already been suggested, between descrip tive and non-descriptive names. However, to say that a name is non-descriptive is not the same as saying it lacks a sense. That common names, such as George or Elizabeth have senses as well as references is clear from the fact that the first implies that the bearer is male and second that the bearer is female. These im plications derive not from any literal or dictionary meaning that the names may have, for they have none, but from the conventions governing their application, conventions which do not rule out the possibility of eccentric or aberrant ap plications. The senses of common names also have other dimensions besides gender; some carry implications about class, race, ethnicity, and so on. Nor are their senses static, as is evident from the fluctuating levels of popularity of names chosen for children. However, although common names have senses, invented names, like Westpac, have no sense, or virtually no sense at the time they are constructed. This is part of their attraction to advertisers and marketers; they give free reign to the creative talents in the agencies. But it would be a mistake to suppose that the proliferation of invented names for corporations and pro ducts, and their foregrounding in advertising campaigns, is simply a product of the advertising industry. This shift in commercial naming practices is directly related to a number of changes that have taken place, and are taking place, in the structure of world capitalism and in the operations of the large corporations: diversification, transnationalisation, and re-location of the moment of competi tion as a result of changes in production processes and consequent increased uniformity of product and price.

There are two discernible traditional practices for the naming of companies. One involves constructing a purely descriptive name identifying the line of business the company is in: General Foods, Standard Oil, Just Jeans, and so on. The other utilises the name of the founder or the name of the place of origin to form part or the whole of the company name: Standard Oil of California, John Fairfax Ltd., Ford Motor Company, and so on. Names of these sorts belong to a stage of capitalism where companies were controlled by particular families and where they were engaged in a single line of business. But neither of these things is in general true of the modern corporation. Apart from certain notable excep tions—for example, three of the four large Australian media companies—cor porations are no longer controlled by the founding families. They are large public entities subject to share raids, takeovers, mergers and various kinds of internal restructuring.

Nor are modern corporations, in general, single industry businesses. Within the service sector—banking, insurance, retailing, advertising, accounting, and so on—there still exists a tradition and continuing practice of specialisation, accompanied by appropriately conservative modes of dress on the part of employees and the rhetoric of service, e.g., 'Can I be of assistance, Sir/Madam?' But even in this sector massive changes are occurring, not merely in respect of reduced staff levels and expansion of computerisation, both of which are caus ing the service rhetoric to wear thin, but also in regard to corporate structure. A number of large retail organisations, for example, have been taken over and


incorporated into large diversified conglomerates in the last few years, and the bank mergers are largely the result of expected changes in the finance industry, to be discussed below.

Outside the service industries, diversification and the formation of con glomerates has proceeded extensively since the 1950s. In addition, the largest companies have become transnational corporations, not merely marketing their products world-wide, but organising their production on an international scale. In this situation, the old naming practices are inappropriate. Corporations engaged in production across a range of industries opt for names which do not tie them to any particular industry. Furthermore, since they operate worldwide, they opt for names not tied to any particular language or culture but which are equally marketable anywhere in the world. In addition, given an internationally recognisable logo, a corporation can maximise the value of its advertising budget by concentrating much of its effort on the production of a marketable sense for that logo, with an assumed flow-on to the products, rather than producing specific promotions for specific products. These are some of the underlying reasons for the proliferation of invented corporate names and the organisation of corporate advertising around them.

There is another reason. With the increased concentration of the ownership of production in virtually all industries, and with the consequent development of capital-intensive processes of production through the introduction of new technologies, both product and price differentiation have been minimised. Petrol, for example whatever the company marketing it, is substantially the same pro duct and seils for substantially the same price. The same is true of the various brands of soap powder, toothpastes, margarines and many other household pro ducts and processed foods. Even in the car industry, where a small number of manufacturers produce and market a wide variety of vehicles at greatly differing prices, those which compete for the same segment of the market—e.g., the small family car—differ only in superficial ways and sell for similar prices. In this situation the focus of the competitive marketing shifts from the specifica tions of the product itself and its price to the name and the production of a sense for the name. The moment of competition is shifted from the product itself and its price to its 'image'; and this has increasingly come to mean in practice that it is located in the name and its (produced) sense.

The marketing of cars is particularly instructive with respect to the role of names in advertising. With a few exceptions, the marketing of cars has moved in two different directions, one for up-market products and the other for down-market ones. Both, however, make crucial use of non-descriptive names, though in dif ferent ways. The up-market manufacturers—Mercedes, Volvo, Porsche, Peugeot—utilise only the corporate name, distinguishing between their various models by means other than naming. A common practice is to use digits which, unlike names, provide information (at least for the initiated reader) about size of the engine, number of cylinders, number of doors, and so on. Furthermore, since there are no names but corporate names in the upper end of the market, it is primarily around the relevant corporate name that the marketing strategies are organised, utilising and re-inforcing its already-established connotations of class, quality, sophistication, and so on. At the other end of the market the dominant


marketing strategy is entirely different. Each model is given a distinctive name—Commodore, Falcon, Sigma, Laser, Camira, Pulsar Skyline, and so on—and it is around these names that the promotions are organised. Evidently, the marketers have decided that to try to manufacture a marketable sense for names like Holden or Ford would be like spitting into the wind, and have opted instead to invent (or adapt) names for models and produce senses for them. A new model and a new name with no established sense leaves the advertiser free to manufac ture any sense for the name, and hence any 'image' for the car, which may seem marketable at the time. Thus, though the up-market and down-market marketing strategies are quite different, they both have in common the fact that they are organised around names.

The re-naming of some of the large oil companies in the late 60s and early 70s also illustrates the important place names have come to occupy in advertis ing and the connection between naming practices and corporate structure and policy. The major oil companies originated as single industry corporations, and this is reflected in their names. When the original Rockefeller Standard Oil Com pany was broken up by an anti-trust legislation, a number of the offspring com panies adapted the old name, forming such names as Standard Oil of New Jersey Standard Oil Company of New York, and so on, which located them in the oii business. Similarly, the large British company was called British Petroleum, and Royal Dutch/Shell was often known as Shell Oil. They were not only identified as oil companies, but they also advertised their petroleum products including petrol. Then in the late 60s, with their diversification into other sectors of the energy industry, and into various unrelated industries—office equipment, plastics, computers and, in one case, a chain of department stores—the reference to oil began to be dropped from their names. Shell Oil became just Shell, Standard Oil Company of New York became Mobil and Standard Oil of New Jersey became Esso, derived from the initial of the original name,4 and British Petroleum became simply BP, which is what appears in the logo. In this last case, the change was no doubt motivated as much by a desire to play down, in its in ternational operations, its British connections as by a desire to represent itself as something other than merely an oil company.

These name changes were motivated basically by changes in the companies' situation and range of operations. But they also fitted with a change in marketing strategy which followed the oil 'crisis' of the early 70s. At the time they were maintaining that there was a world shortage of oil, the companies could hardly advertise petrol. So petrol advertising ceased, and with minor exceptions was not revived after the 'crisis' had passed. In its place, the companies went over to corporate advertising, organising it around their (now appropriate) corporate names and their logos displayed around the world. Thus the oil 'crisis' was one of the important factors in the emergence of corporate advertising. Other fac tors include the availability of space for outdoor advertisements and the spon sorship of sporting events whereby corporate logos can be displayed during televi sion programs, not merely in commercial breaks.

The case of BP, a non-descriptive name formed by using the initials of the old name, is an instance of another growing practice adopted by corporations for the same reasons as invented names. Although a name such as BP, or BHP IBM ICI, CRA or CSR, is derived from a descriptive name, its use in corporate iogos


and in corporate advertising very quickly separates it from the sense of the name from which it is derived and frees it to take on whatever sense marketers choose to manufacture for it. It therefore serves the same purposes as an invented name.

The growth in the use of invented names or names composed of initials for corporations (and some products) is not a mere marketing fad. It is a product of various aspects of the current stage of capitalism. It is also, indirectly, en couraged by a certain aspect of advertising regulation, at least in Australia5.

While there are regulations against unfair or misleading advertising, the rele vant judicial bodies interpret them to apply only to factual statements, not to 'puffery' or to advertisements empty of factual content. 'Puffery' is the term us ed for wildly exaggerated or absurd remarks not likely to be taken literally by the target audience. The exclusion of 'puffery' from the scope of the regulations against unfair or misleading advertising, in effect, means that an advertisement which makes slightly exaggerated clairns may well fall foul of the law while one whose claims are wildly exaggerated does not. The interpretation of the regula tions as applying only to factual statements means that an advertisement which says nothing factual about a product or corporation but merely associates its name with a whole array of images runs little risk of being found in breach of the law. But saying nothing, or virtually nothing, of a factual kind and producing a sense for a name by associating it with an array of images and a jingle, or series of jingles, is precisely the kind of advertising most suited to the marketing strategy of foregrounding non-descriptive names. To focus in a promotional campaign on a corporate name and the production of a sense for it is precisely not to focus on the corporation itself. It is to substitute the name for the corporation, to render it and not the corporation visible, and to seek to establish in the target audience recognition of the name and a positive attitude to the sense manufactured for it. This accords with the needs of corporations, the visibility of the corporate name promotes business, and the relative invisibility of the corporation itself shields it from the objections of conservationists, environmentalists and other critics. Thus, the position of large corporations in contemporary capitalism, adver tising regulations, and the semantics of names all converge to encourage adver tising with a minimum of factual content.

Not all commercial advertising, of course, involves the production of senses for non-descriptive names. But even where it does not—where, for example—the name is a descriptive one—the standard practice is to display the name, not merely to mention or sing it. This is true even in those cases where the pro motion consists entirely in offering prospective prizes to purchasers and makes no pretence whatever at saying anything about the product, the company or the name. The centrality of names in advertising is also evident from the case of generics. Generics are labelled but unnamed products, indistinguishable except in packaging from the relevant named products, which are sold at a reduced price and are not advertised. Stores which carry them often advertise, but the products themselves are not. Nor is the manufacturer identified. The absence from generics of both a brand name and a corporate name is directly related to the fact that they are not advertised. But although not advertised, generics have made con siderable inroads into the markets for branded products. This is not only a testimony to the rationality of some consumers; it is also evidence that


advertising, despite its elaborate and expensive productions, is less than wholly suc cessful. This, in fact, should hardly be surprising given the reduced emphasis on content, the increased emphasis on packaging names and the increasing reliance, suggested earlier, on Pavlovian conditioning.

But, successful or not, there can be no doubting that the foregrounding of names and the production of senses for them has become one of the most, perhaps the most, prominent features of advertising, especially visual advertis ing. Nor is the display of corporate names confined to advertising as such; it is an increasingly prominent feature of the built urban environment, as a visit to North Sydney will readily demonstrate. This foregrounding of corporate names, especially non-descriptive names, gives corporations a particular kind of visibility—visibility of the name/sense in place of visibility of corporate activities. But it does more than that. Because it is an appropriation of a deep-seated cultural practice—the practice of giving non-descriptive names to certain sorts of things—it takes over also the cultural connotations of that practice. Non-descriptive names are characteristically given to objects of affection (babies, pets), sources of security, satisfaction or pleasure (houses, ships, yachts) and natural objects of admiration, awe or esteem (mountains, rivers, oceans). To give something a name is to bring it within the ambit of human relations, to render it such that people can relate to it on some personal level. These established connotations inevitably carry over to corporations when the naming practice is extended to them. Thus, quite apart from the role of corporate names in advertising, the nam ing of corporations has the ideological effect of naturalizing them, of represen ting them as being objects to which people can relate personally, rather than intrusive and exploitative products of a particular way of organising production. Corporate naming, in short, is a way of humanising the face of capitalism. It is not, of course, the only way. The State Bank of NSW explicitly declares that it does 'more for you personally', and the Commonwealth Bank has been running a series of television commercials featuring understanding bank managers who 'make money come to terms with people'. Both the Westpac and the National Australia Bank television launchings represent the corporation as taking a per sonal interest in their customers, but they do it in different ways. The NAB foregrounds its (descriptive) name to tap the nationalist current in Australian culture, and constructs its human face by means of images of its friendly staff. But Westpac utilises its (non-descriptive) name to produce that effect, repeatedly displaying the name to the accompanying jingle 'Its your sign for the times'.

Concentration, Regulation and Competition

If corporate naming and advertising strategies are a product of the way cor porations perceive themselves and their futures, the fact that Westpac and the NAB have adopted different strategies should indicate some uncertainty about the future of banking in Australia. This is in fact the situation. Banking in Australia, like broadcasting, education, transport and health, is a ~mixed' system with both public and private ownership. At the 1936-7 Royal Commission into the Monetary and Banking Systems, J.B. Chifley, in a dissenting opinion, stated: 'In my opi nion the best service to the community can be given only by a banking system from which the profit motive is absent, and thus, in practice, only by a system entirely under national control'6.


Ten years later, as Prime Minister, Chifley sought to nationalise the banks, but the move failed. Since that time, opposition to commercial banking has largely dissipated, and it now appears that the commercial banks, like the commercial media, are here to stay. Since Chifley's time, the commercial banks have been subject to a range of regulations (control over interest rates, and suchlike) and have at the same time enjoyed a considerable measure of protection. Except for the two recent mergers, no new licences have been issued, and in particular licences have not been made available to foreign banks. The banks have also been protected from share raids leading to possible takeovers by a regulation limiting to 10% the proportion of shares that can be held by any person or com pany. However, in 1979 the Campbell Committee was set up by the Federal Government to examine the Australian financial system 'against the background of the Government's free enterprise objectives', i.e., to formulate recommenda tions for the de-regulation of banking. The Committee in its 1981 report did just that, and it is clear, had the present government survived, that the de-regulation policy would have been implemented in 1983. Foreign banks had already been been invited to apply for licences.

It is against this background that the two mergers were negotiated. De regulation, strongly supported by the banks themselves, opens up expanded business prospects for them, not only in Australia but also in foreign markets, provided they are big enough to compete with the large foreign banks. Follow ing the mergers, there are just three Australian commercial trading banks, Westpac, ANZ and NAB, all of which are very large corporations, falling within the top 15 listed companies in Australia and within the top 100 banks in the world. This situation is not just the result of the recent mergers, but also of numerous earlier ones. Besides concentration of ownership, two other changes affecting banks have occurred since Chifley's time. One is the emergence and expansion of a whole range of non-bank financial institutions which compete in various ways with banks: building societies, finance companies, merchant banks, credit unions, cash management trusts and insurance companies. Apart from the insurance companies, these institutions are substantially unregulated. The Whitlam Govern ment legislated to regulate them, but the crucial part of the Act has never been proclaimed. Banks themselves have moved indirectly into the unregulated sec tor through the ownership of finance company subsidiaries. The prospect of retrieving business lost to these other institutions is a further motive for the banks' support of de-regulation.

The other change which has been taking place is technological—particularly the introduction of computerisation—and the attendant changes in the nature of work in banks. Technological change has resulted, and is likely to result fur ther, in greater centralisation and loss of autonomy for the branches, the tradi tional loci of the much-vaunted personal service. It is likely also to result in the closure of a number of branches and in the elimination of jobs. It has also caus ed bank workers, aware of the threats to their jobs, to become more militant, as is signified by the union's change of name from the Auslralian Bank Officers Association to the Auslralian Bank Employees Union. The banks are among the largest employers in the country; Westpac has a 'staff' of over 30,000 employed within Australia, the ANZ has about 20,000 and the NAB about 18,000. Over 50% are under 24, and over 40% are women.


Banks are engaged in a number of quite different kinds of financial activity. The most visible is the retail banking traditionally conducted by the branches, taking deposits from individuals and selling them debt in the form of personal loans, mortgages, and so on. This is the area where banks have the largest number of clients, but it is labour-intensive and has a low profit margin. Other, less visi ble but more profitable, banking activities include the provision of various ser vices for corporations, funds management and foreign exchange business. Given the size of the banks and the relative profit rates, there can be little doubt that expansion will be largely in the wholesale rather than the retail sector. Foreign banks also can be expected to display little interest in retail banking. Branches can be expected to close, services provided by branches to contract, staff levels to be reduced, computerisation extended and more functions centralised. Banks however, cannot afford to alienate their retail clients and lose them to another bank any more than the Federal Government can afford to implement the de regulation policy in such a way as to alienate the home-owner and small-business sections of their constituency. Nor can the banks ignore the union and the in creased militancy of many of their employees.

The launchings of the new banks, then, has been conducted in a context which requires the banks to negotiate a number of fairly active contradictions: service versus automation, staff loyalty versus new technology and eroded conditions of work, the interests of corporations versus the interests of individual customers. It is not surprising, therefore, that the two banks should opt for different nam ing and marketing strategies, for different ways of trying to contain the contradic tions and maximise the profitable opportunities presented by de-regulation. It is also not surprising that so much should be made of service in both campaigns for it is precisely that that is placed in jeopardy by de-regulation and computerisa tion. As noted earlier, however, service is represented differently in the two cam paigns. Whereas the NAB has foregrounded its personnel, representing the bank as still composed of people, the traditional providers of service, Westpac has grasped the nettle of new technology and represented its 'Handybank' as a pro minent way in which the 'bank will be there with you'. As tellers are replaced by machines, it will not be surprising if retail banking functions, like processed and fast food, are marketed in terms of convenience rather than service. But for the present at least, the NAB, in keeping with its more conservative marketing approach, has chosen to foreground its people rather than its machines.

It was suggested earlier that two of the reasons why large corporations adopt non-descriptive names are to facilitate their international operations and to break the tie with a particular industry as they pursue a policy of diversification. Australian banks already operate internationally in a limited way and that can be expected to increase as they gain access to new markets as a result of a pro posed condition of reciprocity imposed on the licensing of foreign banks. Westpac, in opting for a non-descriptive name has signalled its intention substan tially to expand its international activities. The NAB, on the other hand, evident ly sees the bulk of its business as continuing to be Australian. With regard to diversification, there is as yet little indication of banks moving outside the finance industry, though they do of course own real estate and they invest in a wide variety of industries. But it is likely that in the fairly near future some banks, like media companies, will diversify into other areas of production.


What is more likely still is that some corporations not currently engaged in banking, or even in other sectors of the finance industry, will, after de-regulation, acquire banking interests. Already Elders-lXL has indicated an intention of do ing so and so has the AMP Society. In addition, Consolidated Press has entered into a merchant banking joint venture with a Dutch bank, and it is possible that in the future a full banking licence will be applied for. Furthermore, it appears that the 10% ownership limit will be waived or modified, in which case banks, like other corporations including the media, could be subject to share raids and takeovers. It is hard to predict how far any of these changes will go. What is clear is that Westpac, by its choice of name, has signalled an expectation of more substantial change than that signalled by the NAB. Doubtless also shifts of any of these kinds in the structural-economic position of banks will be accompanied by shifts in their cultural position.


1. For an outline ot the structure of the advertising see Bonney and Wilson, Australia's Commercial Media, Chapter 5, Macmillan Australia, 1983.

2. 17th December, 1982.

3. See Bonney and Wilson op. cit., Chapter 6.

4. In the U.S. Esso was obliged to use a different name becuase of objections from the other Standard Oil companies. They chose Exxon.

5. For a comprehensive discussion of advertising regulation, see Barnes and Blakeney, Advertising Regulation, Law Book Company, Sydney, 1982.

6. Quoted in Crough, 'Restructuring the Finance Sector', in Intervention 14, Sydney, 1981. Some of this section derives from this article.

7. See Game and Pringle, Women in Banking', in Intervention 14, Sydney, 1981.

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