Skip to main content

Pedestrians heading east across Bay St. at King St. West on April 17 2014. The Bank of Montreal is on the opposite corner.Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Bank of Montreal has changed its lead advertising agency, less than two years after hiring agency Young & Rubicam to handle its marketing and branding across North America.

BMO, which works with a number of ad agencies for different services, has hired FCB Toronto as its newest agency partner. FCB's Montreal and Chicago offices will also work on the BMO business.

Canada's fourth-largest bank expanded its relationship with Y&R – which already had the BMO Harris Bank advertising account in the United States – in November of 2013, after ending a 10-year relationship with its agency of record, Cossette.

FCB confirmed the news, but was unavailable for an interview.

Part of the change was due to the need to unify BMO's Canadian and U.S. advertising strategies. But there was also a larger trend at play: at the time, a spate of Canada's biggest banks had decided to re-examine their advertising agency relationships, as the retail banking sector grappled with a changing competitive landscape, and sought new ways to compete with each other for customers. A major focus in that battle was, and remains, digital media: banks were looking for agencies that could help them advertise as effectively as possible online and on mobile devices.

The switch comes as BMO appears to be reconsidering its larger marketing strategy: last month, Connie Stefankiewicz was appointed chief marketing officer, replacing Joanna Rotenberg, who had held the post since 2013. The ad agency review was under way before Ms. Stefankiewicz stepped into the role. (Ms. Rotenberg is now head of personal wealth management at BMO.)

FCB will now be charged with a larger "brand refresh" that began at BMO about 18 months ago. Since 2008, the bank had used the "making money make sense" slogan, designed to reassure customers who found finance confusing. More recently, it had begun to take a different approach, shifting more of its messaging behind the tagline, "we're here to help."

"The world has evolved since 2008," Ms. Stefankiewicz said. "People are not going through the major milestones in sequence any more. That's now the norm: everybody's journey is different. People still find finance confusing, but more importantly, it's a personal journey. Our brand refresh is about connecting with our customers on a human basis … bringing the human element to banking and to investing."

An example of that new approach can be found in some of BMO's latest ads – produced by another firm in its roster of agencies, KPS+ – which profile relationships between its staff and clients. While the style may differ, the overall approach is indicative of the work that FCB will be doing for the brand, Ms. Stefankiewicz said.

Advertiser-agency relationships have been under pressure in recent years, as marketers seek to control costs. Often, that means putting agency business up for grabs, in search of an agency that can promise greater savings for the same expertise. Often, that means that in order to land prestigious accounts, agencies are agreeing to work on thinner and thinner profit margins. It also has been a factor behind shorter tenures for ad agency relationships – as well as chief marketing officers, who sometimes hold their roles for just a year and a half. In BMO's case, cost was not the primary concern, according to Ms. Stefankiewicz.

"Cost is always important, there's no doubt about it. But our primary focus is bringing the brand to life," she said. "Cost was not the overriding factor."

Y&R Toronto was recently folded into another ad agency, Taxi, which is owned by the same holding company, WPP PLC. According to BMO, the switch had nothing to do with that change.