Finance brands often play to ideas of ‘security’ in their advertising and communications, rooted in the truth that good financial decisions make us feel secure – knowing we have the money for whatever life throws at us.

However, the situations that make us feel ‘secure’ as consumers are deeply personal. Whilst some may find comfort in the home and close-knit family life, for others this may be suffocating, and security can be found in freedom and flexibility.

We have therefore analysed a set of finance brands semiotically, to de-code how ‘security’ as a concept is manifesting in their communications. Our analysis reveals three key codes – from traditional pillars of security through to simplicity, childishness and even brutal honesty as markers of security for newer generations.

Home comforts

For traditional banks, ‘security’ is expressed in the suggestion they can help you achieve wholesome, family-oriented futures.

Both Natwest and Hargreaves Landsdown showcase clear cause-and-effect narratives in their ads, where a protagonist ‘ticks off’ key life milestones: buying a house, having a child… These images are intended to provoke emotion, nostalgia and longing. Culturally, happy families are often depicted as the pinnacle of success.

The brands themselves are mute in these life stories, but it’s revealed (often at the end) it’s all thanks to banking with these this comfort is made possible.

Ultimately security here is nest-making, to ensure physical and emotional protection. Being physically rooted to a place, and to a person, to showcase being ‘settled’ and comfortable.

Hargreaves Lansdown and Natwest imagery
Hargreaves Lansdown and Natwest

Brutal honesty

In contrast to the serious, emotional narratives of the big banks, disruptive brands are delivering a sense of ‘security’ via humour and satire, delivering a brutally honest outlook on life. Whilst this may seem counter-intuitive to security, it’s the cut-through honesty that’s exactly what consumers find reassuring.

For example, Dead Happy talk about death in a hilariously matter-of-fact way, to remove the heavy emotion associated with taking out life insurance. Security is therefore manifesting in staying emotionally ‘down-to-earth’; seeing the reality of the situation rather than a potential hyperbolic ‘what-if?’ future.

From the upside down ‘A’ in their logo; suggesting we’re lying face-down dead; through to their morbid iconography (skulls, ‘X’s, ransom-note-style text) – it’s an honest reminder why we’re on their website. Because we’re going to die one day.

Brands like Tom use a similar approach. They use simple language their customers use, to place them on our level: ‘a quick chinwag with one of our FCA-vetted insurance partners and you’re golden’. There’s acknowledgement and appreciation that here we’re seeing the ‘truth of it’. This can also be viewed as ‘down-to-earth-ness’ – a trait symbolic of authenticity, and deeply respected in British culture.

DEADHAPPY and Tom Life Insurance imagery
DEADHAPPY and Tom Life Insurance

Childish simplicity

Other finance disruptors are taking a more aesthetic approach to their branding. They promise simplicity and an overall ‘nice’ experience when using the brand. The promise of ease, and simply having a nicer time, is the security manifestation here.

Habito use design codes associated with youth culture. Their website takes a synthwave aesthetic - with their neon pastel tones. We’re given a utopian world where we can focus on relaxation and enjoyment, rather than admin or big life achievements.

Life's too short for life admin

In advertising, both Cuvva and Habito use cartoons to tell their stories. Cartoons are traditionally associated with children, and therefore naturally juxtapose the very serious world of banking. In Habito’s ads, mainstream banks are personified as zombie hands – crawling for us and stealing our time and money. They’re the ‘bad guys’, whereas Habito are the ‘good guys’. We’re posed with this familiar binary opposition to make choosing a brand easier. You wanna go with the good guys, right?

There are no depictions of warm homes and cosy hugs, but instead images of individual freedom (e.g. Cuvva depicting a lady driving freely with sunglasses on – a very literal symbol of enjoying life without restraint).

This shift in security reveals cultural shifts for the younger generation. Rising anxiety levels is a big source of insecurity for this generation. Admin, major life decisions – they all add to these fears. Big commitments don’t necessarily equal security. Here, security is simply about living nicer, stress-free lives.

Habito and CUVVA advertising imagery
Habito and CUVVA advertising

For brands:

  • What is desirable is no longer one-size-fits all: How we seek to spend our money is deeply personal. Brands sell aspirational lifestyles; but what’s desirable is changing. ‘Security’ for many consumers today isn’t necessarily getting married or having children – it’s simply about feeling less anxious and not having to deal with so much admin. Particularly when the future can seem so uncertain, sometimes it’s about living happily in the present day.
  • Imagery is shifting out of safety and professionalism: Images of happy families, warm homes and ‘doing the finances’ at the kitchen table are repeated across the finance industry. In the consumer’s mind, brands are a blur. Disruptive brands are telling stories in a way that stands out: a simple example is shifting from realism to cartoons and illustrations.
  • There’s room for tone to soften: Navigating difficult subjects like death can be hard for consumers. Emergent brands are taking a brutally honest approach. Consider research on your target audience to understand how they think about subjects like ‘death’. You may find you can talk to them in a more relevant way by breaking through the clichés - cutting through the noise of competitor brands.

Find out how Semiotics can help you and your brands