RHB’s group CMO Abdul Sani Abdul Murad on humanising the banking industry

With Hari Raya just around the corner, RHB Bank has deliberately steered away from the usual celebratory depictions of the festive season, and focused on building on the tenets of open hearts and minds synonymous to that period. In the latest edition of its “Challenger Series” created by FCB Malaysia, the bank casts a spotlight on a public school teacher named Amy Mistaka, also known as Cikgu Orked, who went the extra mile to overcome the language barrier between her and a recluse student, Yip Kah Szhen.

Launched on 16 May, the video currently has since garnered four million views, 12,000 likes on Facebook and YouTube. Meanwhile, Minister of Education Maszlee Malik also shared the video on his Facebook page.

In an interview with A+M, group CMO of the RHB Group, Abdul Sani Abdul Murad (pictured), said brands today need to stand for certain values, and the more universal the values are, the wider the reach of the influence. He added that RHB’s brand campaigns, including the latest Raya campaign, challenges consumers to discover what drives and motivates them on a daily basis. “It is our belief that what we learn from one another, will help make us better – both as a person and as a brand,” Sani said.

Through its latest Hari Raya campaign, the brand hopes to create a strong and lasting connection with consumers that will enable it to “continuously define the emotional experience” RHB hopes to put forth. This, it hopes, will in turn aid the growth in long term business value – which is in line with RHB’s five-year transformation plan, FIT22, aiming to deliver better customer experiences in all aspects of what it does.

While Sani did not share the monetary investments that went to into the launch of the campaign, he said that “having a good tale to tell is more important than the amount spent to promote it”, and that brand building will be its main focus in the years to come. Sani added:

A great story travels far and wide, and as a result drives better efficacy on the marketing investment.

Fans of RHB’s “Challenger Series” would also notice that the brand has always included a human element in all its videos, such as its film featuring renowned professional gamer Chai Yee Fung and last year’s Raya spot celebrating heroic mothers. Sani told A+M that having real people and stories in its videos, has helped to humanise RHB in a highly commoditised industry.

“RHB is perceived to be more approachable and truly understands its customers need better and that has helped to bring down barriers for customers to start a fresh relationship with the bank and as a result, we are seeing strong growth indicators in some of our key customer segments,” he said. Additionally, Sani said its “Challenger Series” has enabled RHB to strengthen its brand health. Quoting 2019 statistics from Brand Finance, he added that RHB’s brand value “jumped exponentially”, witnessing a 45% year-on-year growth, its highest growth ever recorded.

“We encourage everyone in the team to constantly exude creative passion in the work,” he said, adding that creativity is important for brands to engage with consumers nowadays and cut through the clutter. Sani said:

If we don’t buy into our creative work, we would not put it out into the scene. That is our litmus test.

The creative process behind RHB’s challenger ethos

Shedding more light on the inspiration behind RHB’s Raya video, FCB’s co-owner and CEO, Shaun Tay, said education has long been a hot topic in Malaysia and typically a subject that is tinted with negativity as its often easy to critic rather than change. “That’s why it’s important to reframe our viewpoint and realise that even in an imperfect system, there are those who will always try to make a difference. This is essential of the challenger ethos that FCB is creating for RHB,” Tay said.

He added that there is also a desire to turn RHB into a beacon of inspiration, considering that it is an important national institution and has the responsibility of propelling Malaysia forward. “That has to start with inspiring people to believe that progress can be achieved as long as they are will to work towards it,” Tay said.

Brands in general have a habit of launching a one-off festive spot or promotions before moving on to the next one. In this instance, RHB’s videos all share a common thread about challenging norms, striving for progress and showcasing tenacity. Tay said branding exists to deliver consistency, adding:

It is more than just whacking a logo onto an ad. Instead, it’s about how a brand behaves.

While the festive films that FCB produces for RHB might tug at consumers’ heartstrings and cause online chatter, Tay said it is the opportunity between the festive periods that offer the brand to display an “always on, ever progressive and consistent challenger brand behaviour”. This is exemplified through its recent Mother’s Day campaign featuring the life story of great-grandmother Siti Hendon Abdullah, which also made its way on the Bukit Bintang Posterscope.

Meanwhile, FCB’s co-owner and chief creative officer, Ong Shi Ping, said that the new video is not just a story of a school teacher, but a story of progress based on a human truth that resonates with all consumers. “Just as Cikgu Orked’s heartfelt story of breaking barriers to reach out to her reclusive student defines her as a teacher and a person, all of us too, have our own ‘breaking barriers’ story to tell,” he said.

Ong told A+M that the “consistent truth” about the brand will always be the foundation for all its festive spots. Thereafter, FCB will expand on that foundation and create a story that is relevant to the respective festive periods. “In doing so, we’ve reframed the typical festive advertising from cliched and seasonal topics into an on-going narrative that extends beyond the occasion,” he added.

Instead of pouring millions into big expensive ads to get noticed, Ong believes in the power of telling beautiful, entertaining and relevant stories to capture consumers’ attention and take brands further. When asked by A+M about the creative process when working with RHB to plan for upcoming campaigns, Ong said the thought of having a creative process “sounds tedious”. “I guarantee what comes out of it wouldn’t be anywhere near good,” he said.

According to him, discussions happen organically when FCB and RHB come together. “It’s never a one-way presentation of ideas, but a two-way conversation on how to work the ideas to be as good as it can be,” Ong added.

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