Commentary

Schwab Bungles Its Appeal To The Heart

In the content I viewed for the 325-odd Video Critique columns I’ve written, brands have sought to inform me. They’ve tried to entertain me. They’ve attempted to delight, dazzle, surprise, bait, awaken, alert and, in a few cases, confuse me. They’ve employed every tactic save for hand-puppet reenactments of brand lore. That this hasn’t happened yet is an indictment of our collective creativity.

The most common approach, however, has been to amp up the emotion in an attempt to move me. Creators of brand video sure do love themselves some fine American mawkishness. This makes sense, not just because we’re all saps at heart but also because it’s easy. Say nice stuff about moms. Chronicle the successes of a disadvantaged teen. No brand team lacks the imagination or budget for this.

The problem is that only so many brands have a personality that lends itself to emotional appeals. Take, say, Spectralock Pro Grout. I cannot envision a scenario in which Spectralock Pro Grout could liquefy the contents of my eyeholes, at least not one that doesn’t involve stuffing my sockets with it. How about K-Y? Go ahead, hit me with an emotional scenario featuring a K-Y product. No, a wayward pool boy cannot play a role in it. For the record, I’d love to be proven wrong about this.

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Which brings us to Charles Schwab, a brand whose compact with customers begins and ends with “we will try not to lose your money.” I have few strong feelings about Schwab (or any other investment/banking/planning/insurance entity), but its continued efforts to forge a bond and position itself as the great protector of family and future land somewhere between insincere and delusional.

I wonder if the brand team responsible for Schwab’s series of “Own Your Tomorrow” videos recognizes this on some level. To begin with, the videos have been slapped with the vague, genre-consistent “Own Your Tomorrow” moniker, rather than a name that hints at the emotional terrain trod therein. “Own Your Tomorrow” sounds like a crappy self-help book, which is probably the intention.

And so it is that, in “Flying High,” we come to meet Lt. Commander Keith Roudebush, a Navy pilot whose life was upended when his wife died young. This tragedy left him to care alone for his six-year-old daughter, a responsibility that, by all accounts, he embraced with every fiber of his being.

Schwab, however, attempts to frame this very real hardship in the context of its product and service offerings. “What would you do when life throws you an unexpected twist? Keith’s story of passion, sacrifice and determination is the definition of what it means to Own your tomorrow [peculiar capitalization choices theirs, not mine],” reads the YouTube blurb.

Never mind the screwy tenses in the question it asks. There’s nothing in Roudebush’s lovely, plainspoken telling of his story that suggests “passion” was a part of it. As a result, this feels like one of those “people will buy this line of reasoning because we told them to”-type situations in which the content is at odds with the message conveyed.

Too, “Flying High” blows its money shot. Towards the clip’s conclusion, we look in on a moment during which three generations of Roudebushes unite and do the most stereotypically family-type activity there is: Enjoy each other’s company in absolute, relentless silence. Right around the 3:50 mark, Roudebush’s daughter gazes across the couch at her father with an expression that says, “The nice man with the camera person told me to gaze across the couch at my father, ideally in a manner that suggests deep appreciation.”

Do I buy any of this? I do not. Stick to dollar signs, Schwabby.

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This marks my last Video Critique column for MediaPost. Thanks to Amy Corr and Joe Mandese for the typo-wrangling, ego-massaging and disaster-management-protocol-following that comes with editing and managing someone of my talent and temperament. And thanks to everybody for reading - catch you on the other side.
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