Is the ABSA brand silently being swallowed by Barclays?


I’ll be honest. I’ve been with the uncool bank since day 1 – ABSA. In fact, my first savings account was with one of its predecessors – Trustbank. My parents banked at the other predecessor, Volkskas. So clearly I’ve got a long history with the brand.

When FNB started to become the cool bank a few years ago, handing out iPads, a rockstar “Twitterati” for a CEO and cool “Steve” ads, I remained with ABSA despite the droves that migrated across.

I remained with ABSA despite being last in line to receive a mobile banking app.

When I recently needed a business banking account, I went straight to ABSA, despite FNB offering all kinds of extra’s, such as access to their Slow lounges in Sandton and the airport.

You can call me stupid, or brand loyal, or maybe just indifferent. Bottom-line, I have been with ABSA all this time. Add to this my passion for brand strategy, and you will understand the significant interest I am taking in what is clearly a full blown brand migration for the ABSA brand.

All the indications are that ABSA is becoming Barclays. Not ABSA with a bit of Barclays. Not Barclays with a bit of “red” in the mix. No, it is becoming full blown blue Barclays. Give it another year, I predict, and there will be no more ABSA bank. Not even a hint.

“So-what”, you may ask? Barclays bought ABSA and quite clearly it is now all one thing.

But it’s not, I argue.

Clearly the ABSA brand identity is very different from the Barclays identity. The one is red, the other blue. One is seen as local, the other global. Historically Afrikaans vs. English and British. Conservative and down to earth vs. liberal and stiff upper lip. Kerk straat vs high street. For a slightly older generation it is enough to conjure up feelings of the Anglo Boer war!

I believe I am right judged by the perceived sensitivity with which the brand migration is being treated. Unless I am missing some very clear communication on the matter – a message that says: “hey we are slowly changing ABSA to Barclays, bare with us”, the Barclays brand is almost covertly getting introduced to the South African public.

  • Earlier this year a full blown Barclays branded ice-cream van did a tour along the coast

  • Slowly but surely the Barclays logo is increasing in size and the ABSA logo getting smaller

  • This past week I noticed a Barclays blue line has been added to the home screen of the ABSA mobile banking app.

Screenshot taken from a promotional video featuring the Barclays branded ice-cream van.

Two screenshots taken from ABSA TV commercials – the first one is from 2013 and the second from this year, 2015. Notice the change in the sizes of the logos.


And so it gathers pace. But nowhere do I see anybody talking about it. A simple search on Google for the term: “ABSA change to Barclays” delivers content from 2013 – two years old? Clearly someone is making lots of money helping ABSA change to Barclays and clearly they have all been sworn to secrecy.

Which – if correct – is perfectly fine. But it does raise 2 interesting brand strategy questions.

Two brand strategy questions emanating from the ABSA / Barclays migration

  1. How do you migrate one brand into another if they have very different identities?
  2. How open should a brand be about such a migration?
On the first point:

Clearly, as I have pointed out, collapsing the ABSA brand into Barclays is a big change. It is Yin merging with Yan. They are literally killing off one brand – slowly – and migrating people’s affinity’s to the other. They are allowing you to say goodbye to the old and embrace – or rather “get use” – to the new.

Compare this with the rapidness of the recent corporate colour change of Vodacom to the red of Vodafone or the very recent slaughtering of the brand in favour of Takealot.

Clearly these brands play in markets with far more recent histories that are much less intrenched in history  and in industries where rapid change is often welcomed instead of frowned upon. This month we have 3G, next month we have 4G. Nothing like the steady hand at the teller that a bank needs to portray.

My conclusion: the pace of a brand migration depends on the industry your brand operates in. Technology lends itself to rapid migrations. Banking, not.

On the second point:

This is where much of my interest in the ABSA brand migration lies. Again, admittedly, I am in the minority here given my stated interests.

But here’s the thing – why should ABSA do this so hush-hush? So covertly? I can quite clearly see that my bank (notice the use of the word “my”) is changing its colours but not talking to me about it? They’re just doing it.

Somehow this is not what I want from my bank – I want my bank to play open cards with me. I want my bank to be totally open and honest with me. If they want to change from ABSA to Barclay’s, they must do it openly and be clear about it with me. Not underhanded, hush-hush, tip-toe.

For me a bank – more so than any other brand – must be brutally honest. And to me it feels as if ABSA is taking me for a fool.

My conclusion: Brands should provide enough communication about its actions to satisfy even those loyal customers that pick up on a change and want to know more.

Ultimately, and in reality, for most it would just seem as if the ABSA brand is slowly bleeding red, until it is completely blue in the face.


Image sources:
Banner image sourced from:
TV ad screenshots from Youtube & Facebook