It’s five minutes to breakfast on the fourth floor outside of the hotel ballroom, and among the three of us, the Merrill Lynch stockbroker—dressed to the nines but already behind the eight ball—pulls me, the interviewer, to one side while the camera guy is at sixes and sevens choosing shots and makes her confession: “I don’t get the ‘2.’”
Take a number; neither do a lot of us. The Merrill Lynch Wealth Management division of Bank of America made much of bringing back the iconic Merrill bull in its new $20 million campaign to re-brand the brokerage unit, which was purchased under controversial circumstances by BofA at year-end 2008. So far so good. One of the best-known images of Wall Street, great historical resonance, and in step with the Dow’s 50 percent or so rebound from its March lows.
Then the campaign gets 2 cute. It’s as if BofA isn’t satisfied with its name in small type beneath the Merrill bull, and a prominent banner in BofA corporate blue across the top. Enter “2,” or more precisely “help 2.” You could read this literally and conclude that Merrill is going to “help 2” make you rich, financially secure, whatever. Or, you could read this as the latest, uneven attempt to get some leverage out of merging corporate heritages.
Trouble is, BofA brings nothing of substance to the brokerage party, at least as represented in this campaign. The “2” is a reference to the two of them—Merrill Lynch and BofA—but there is nothing in the campaign to suggest that two is better than one when it comes to managing personal wealth, or that BofA has anything to add. That’s too bad, especially since it isn’t true to BofA’s heritage, which is steeped in wealth-building entrepreneurialism. In fact, it was founder A.P. Giannini who hawked loans and helped finance the American dream for thousands of fellow immigrants on the streets of San Francisco.
0 for 2. This attempt to leverage heritage appears to miss with clients and, based on my interviewee’s reaction, with employees as well. Still, too soon to tell, she declares, true to her industry’s optimism. They may get it right yet. Perhaps. We do agree on one thing: It’s not too soon for coffee.