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TD hopes new look will persuade customers to pull up a chair

TD is launching a new marketing campaign that aims to communicate a more flexible style of financial services.

Toronto-Dominion Bank's signature green chair is getting the stuffing knocked out of it.

On Tuesday, TD will launch a nationwide ad campaign with a new, slimmed-down chair and a new tagline – replacing "Banking can be this comfortable" with "Ready for you." A TV ad will show a series of chairs, including a baby's bike carrier, a drummer's stool, a café seat and living-room armchairs. The point of all of them is to communicate the more flexible style of financial services that the big banks are rushing to implement, in order to compete with technologies that are fundamentally changing the business.

"The world is changing. We did ask ourselves, does this chair still make sense, using this physical item? How do we evolve that message to what consumers are looking for in the future?" said Theresa McLaughlin, who took over as TD's chief marketing officer from Dominic Mercuri in January, 2016.

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The cushy green armchair has been a key symbol for the bank's marketing since 2001. It was introduced in the wake of TD's acquisition of Canada Trust, which had been known for outpacing its rivals in customer service. TD needed a communications strategy to reinforce its goal of buying up that goodwill. The bank considered other symbols of comfort, including slippers, a robe and other objects, before settling on the chair.

While Ms. McLaughlin signalled she was reconsidering the chair's use last year, the bank also recently undertook the biggest customer-research project in its history, speaking with 13,000 Canadians. One result of that survey was the finding that 79 per cent of people do not feel confident about the future.

Upstart rivals such as Wealthsimple and Questrade have taken advantage of this, investing heavily on the idea that established investment systems do not help the average people to exercise control over their finances or even to understand them.

TD's new positioning is meant to address people's concerns about their financial future.

"We believe that consumers are looking for a lean-in version of comfort," with more hands-on service, Ms. McLaughlin said. To that end, the bank has developed a more contemporary look for its chair: It appears less bulky and overstuffed, with squared edges rather than round. In its introductory ads, TD uses the variety of chairs to promote a message of personalization in its services, ending on the new one. "In the past, the chair represented physical comfort. … We are calling this our virtual chair."

The marketing campaign comes at a sensitive time for TD. On Monday, a parliamentary committee kicked off a series of meetings looking into concerns over aggressive sales practices, which were alleged in media reports in recent months. TD has said it continues to believe it has no "widespread problem" with such practices.

"Many customers told us that was not their experience, but even if one has a less-than-stellar experience, we take that very, very seriously," Ms. McLaughlin said.

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The bank does not appear to have been seriously dented by the reports: Last month, TD reported strong quarterly earnings. On Monday, market-research firm Kantar Millward Brown released its BrandZ report on the world's 100 most valuable brands. TD ranked 56th on that global list, with a brand value of $18.55-billion (U.S.), up 12 per cent from the year before. The only Canadian company to rank higher was rival Royal Bank of Canada, in 47th place.

Such rankings matter, Kantar Millward Brown argues, because there is a correlation between strong brands and businesses' financial performance. The firm tracked its top 100 brands over 12 years and found in that time, those companies outpaced the value growth of the S&P 500 by 50 per cent.

TD's chair is custom-made for the bank by a manufacturer outside Toronto. There are roughly 100 of them out in the market as part of branch decoration and sponsorships, including at Rogers Centre in Toronto and onstage at the Junos. New versions of the chair have already started production, and will slowly replace those.

Two-thirds of Canadians recognize the chair for its association to TD, even when it does not appear alongside the brand name or logo. That's a major accomplishment for a retail bank in a market where financial-services marketing is a "sea of sameness," Ms. McLaughlin said.

TD will spend heavily on TV, print, digital, radio and outdoor ads through the fall.

While a chair makeover may seem largely cosmetic, she sees it as a symbol of a shift in position for the bank.

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"While the chair is still a physical icon, it's now standing much more for financial confidence," Ms. McLaughlin said.

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