The banks of ambitions

—BDC has always been the bank of entrepreneurs, but now it wants to be about ambition. Eric Blais wonders what will happen if another ambitious bank has a problem with that—

Some political strategists argue that slogans have little influence on the electorate. They can act as a rallying call for supporters, but they don’t provide a reason to vote for a party. That’s because they are rarely communicated for more than a month. And most are not inspiring or differentiating.

However, in the commercial sector, a slogan can be a brand’s most powerful asset. One that outlasts changes in ad campaigns and turnover in the C-suite.

The great ones can stand the test of time. “Because you’re worth it” was adopted by L’Oréal half a century ago. Effective slogans can also act as visual shouts. It’s often all one can read on a billboard while driving.

A slogan is an intellectual property that is usually fiercely protected as a registered trademark. This prevents others from using a confusingly similar trademark. Sleep Country Canada got an injunction in 2016 when Sears began using the slogan “There is no reason to buy a mattress anywhere else.”

This brings me to the BDC’s unveiling of its new slogan this week. The Crown corporation has long promoted itself as the bank of entrepreneurs. That is its purpose according to the government legislation that provides the mandate: to support Canadian entrepreneurship by providing financial and management services.

It owns one word, “entrepreneur,” in the financial services space. Just like FedEx owns “overnight” and Volvo owns “safety.” This is key to achieving differentiation. The BDC’s website boldly declares, “we are the bank for Canadian entrepreneurs.” And its past advertising campaigns have used the slogans  “All for entrepreneurs” and “Entrepreneurs first.”

But evidently the BDC has a new raison d’être. It is now “The bank of ambitions”.

It intends to fulfill its role as a development bank even more ambitiously over the next few years. “We were inspired by our new vision and felt it was important to communicate our commitment through an updated brand expression and an ad platform that sets the tone for our ambitions,” said Annie Marsolais, BDC’s chief marketing officer.

Our new vision. Our commitment. Our ambitions. It sounds like the BDC is becoming the bank of its own ambitions.

The word ambition is not new to the BDC’s narrative. In 2018, it published the results of a survey entitled “Busting the myth of entrepreneur ambition.”

It’s also a word Isabelle Hudon—the first woman to serve as Ambassador of Canada to France and BDC’s current CEO—is clearly fond of. She is the co-founder of the A Effect, an initiative whose stated goal is to propel female ambition. She is described on the group’s website as having “the energy of ambition.” Profiles of Hudon in Quebec magazines claim she “embodies ambition” and has “ambition with a capital A.” There’s also a YouTube video about ambitions featuring Hudon and Minister of Foreign Affairs Mélanie Jolie—the latter has been rumoured to harbour ambitions of becoming Prime Minister.

It might also explain the thinking behind the BDC’s launch last month of the $500 million Thrive Venture Fund and Lab for Women. “We strongly believe in the importance of our role as a development bank and we are approaching it with heightened ambition,” said Hudon. “The Thrive platform is a perfect example of what we want to accomplish: an initiative commensurate with our ambitions.”

I hope the Crown corporation will realize its own ambitions, just as I hope the entrepreneurs it supports are equally successful.

But, as I see it, the problem that could arise for “The bank of ambitions,” is if another bank, CIBC, decides to protect its trademark “Ambitions made real.”

Because, as demonstrated by Sleep Country, the reason businesses trademark slogans like “Why buy a mattress anywhere else,” is to stop anyone else from using something similar to fulfill their own ambitions.

Eric Blais is the president of Headspace Marketing, a consultancy that helps marketers build brands in Quebec.