brand challenges

Goldman Sachs Image Rehab: Ads vs. PR

Posted by Abe Sauer on September 30, 2010 12:15 PM

The Goldman Sachs brand has gotten more attention in the last year than it's probably used to, or comfortable with.

At the start of this year, we asked "How do you solve a problem like Goldman Sachs?" At the time, Goldman's CFO insisted, "“We are not blind to the economic environment and the pain and suffering still going on around the world.”

In the ensuing months Goldman's desire to avoid the spotlight went unfulfilled. It made headlines for quarterly profits, eschewing politics this cycle, and an embarrassing memo about restricting obscenities in employee email. As the brand moved to buff its image, public opinion, in part because of SEC charges, worked against it.

The brand, and CEO Lloyd Blankfein, had hoped its charm offensive would restore the brand. Now, with a new image campaign, Goldman Sachs is going on the offensive — but the image-polishing is in danger of offending, instead.

This week GS unveiled advertising stressing the brand's positive activity (just don't call it "God's work") in this financial crisis.

Taking out full-page ads in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal this week in advance of a national campaign, the messaging plays up Goldman's role in alternative energy and job creation.

The ads feature an overall-wearing ("green collar") worker standing beneath a wind turbine with the message "How a plan to help a renewable energy company grow / Ended up creating more than just megawatts" and the tagline: "Progress is Everyone’s Business." (See below)

Ad man Jerry Della Femina commented to Bloomberg TV that it's kowtowing, saying it indicates the brand is "running scared, they sound weak... This is like BP." Instead, Della Femina suggested they focus on public relations instead of buying ads, and that actions speak louder than their own words.

A company spokesperson responded to Bloomberg that “The ads show how we support our clients, including corporations, municipalities, institutions and individuals.”

Now, Goldman Sachs is comprised of some of the smartest people around, which is why the company is the most profitable securities brand in history; but do these smart people actually see this ad having any impact on its brand image? As we noted months ago, "The Goldman brand is all about being the best, not the most liked."

Goldman is in the business of making money and it is loved and hated for that sole reason. If it wants to change its brand to be more than that, it's going to need to do more than throw a pebble in the well. It took years and billions of dollars to create the current Goldman Sachs brand. It will take years and at least millions if the firm really wants to undo it.

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