After being acquired by Bank of America in 2008, the bull was put out to pasture. But BofA recently decided to bring it back. ”We brought the bull back because he is simply one of the most powerful advertising symbols ever created,” said James E. Murphy, a senior vice president at Merrill Lynch.
The bull has also been a symbol of Merrill Lynch’s expertise in placing securities that it underwrote directly—its brokerage network has sometimes been referred to as the “thundering herd.”
Well, the thundering herd isn’t quite back in the company’s recent TV ads, but a single bull running through a field is. The running bull is intended to be a bold and dynamic brand expression at a time when the public is feeling cautious and experiencing a bit of investment inertia.
Years ago, we proposed the same idea to Dreyfus & Co. The Dreyfus lion is also iconic in financial services—an enduring symbol of strength and leadership. In fact, the lion was introduced in the 1950s, predating the Merrill Lynch bull.
At the heart of this brand identity was the Dreyfus lion logotype. Dreyfus also used photos of a lion in its advertising, including a print and TV campaign that showed the lion walking around New York City.
We recommended that the company could make better use of its king of the jungle. In particular, we showed that action shots of the lion in its natural habitat would be a memorable reinforcement of Dreyfus’ new “Aggressive Mutual Fund” family.
This idea of making the lion more ferocious created a lot of controversy within the executive ranks—some believing that making the lion come alive was a good idea, but others believing that this was, well, too aggressive. Eventually, Dreyfus came around, making its lion more active and personable in investor communications and advertising.
Merrill Lynch never seems to struggle with this issue. It’s award-winning “bull in the china shop” commercial debuted in the late 1970s, and demonstrated how the bull could be used to shake things up.
Ho, ho, ho!
Jeff Lapatine is group director, naming and brand architecture, for the Siegel+Gale New York office.