Thursday, March 13, 2008

The Folly of a Financial Circus Comes Home To Roost

There's no end to the ways in which messages intersect people's lives today. As media and channels proliferate it becomes ever more imperative to reward a passerby's fleeting attention with something that will rise above the fray and engage meaningfully.

A recent promotion from iShares encountered in the back of a taxi fails this test.

Unless used with care, the context of a circus does not pair well business generally and in the financial category specifically, and with good reason: the metaphor suggests a degree of mayhem and disorganization in which flamboyance in appearance and expression is often at the expense of substance.

Does this unexpected context of this new association add anything to our understanding or perception of iShares? We at OFD would venture to conclude not, other than they're expressing a lack of conventionality about something that has little strategic or tactical value.

It is akin to a demolition company sponsoring an art exhibit of sculptures or some other kind of object installation. There is the hint of the absurd lurking in the partnership.

One can imagine the logic that drove this outcome for iShares: find a platform to promote the unconventionality of the brand, one whose venue enables the brand to reach the high net-worth profile of target prospects it wishes to attract. On the surface Cirque seems to make sense. But that's exactly the problem. Like a parody of the metaphor itself, this sponsorship and cross marketing initiative is less substance than style.

If lack of convention is a desired aspect of character the folks at iShares wish to imbue the brand with, there are plenty of potentially more fruitful places for its desired customers to encounter the brand. The right kind of museum or performance art for example. Both provide immersive venues in which a lack of convention has a spirit which better supports a financial enterprise that the idea of a circus.