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Nadav Kander for Morgan Stanley’s ‘What If?’ campaign

The Martin Agency’s print campaign for Morgan Stanley was one of the most eye-catching campaigns for a bank in recent years. We explore the ad’s creative paradoxes and talk to Creative Director Alon Shoval.

Shot by Nadav Kander, with portraits of Morgan Stanley employees “embodying” the solid virtues of the company, its message, and the campaign as a whole is a noteworthy moment in Business/Banking communications.

The interest is not wholly in the fact the portraits contain images of solid, durable, monuments such as The Golden Gate bridge ,whose longevity and social usefulness stand as a judgement against the kinds of speculative financial ‘products’ which lead to the credit crunch. Investment banks have often visualized what they do in terms of ‘building’ things, this 1970s ad for Manufacturers Hanover  highlighting the mobility of a new system allowing them to transfer money around the world with an image suggesting to clients that the “sky is the limit”, but it’s also “grounded” in  something very tangible – the steelworker.

1970s advert for Manufacturer's Hanover

On the other hand as our feature All Change: The New Business Imagery suggested, some things really have changed. Employees don’t look like they used to.

1968 Wells Fargo advert

This 1968  Wells Fargo ad, with it’s bank of suited men no doubt felt like a wealth of expertise you could tap into – now it looks just a little scary. The employees in the current campaign are a mix of gender and ethnicity that feels reassuring. And there is a visual metaphor in the way the portraits are inhabited by the spirit of something substantial and purposeful.

And most of all there is the title of the campaign that says something about where the public see banks and bankers – “What If?”  With questions such as “What if there was someone you could trust with your legacy?” What if there was someone who guided you with integrity?” Before the credit crunch these weren’t issues that were top of mind in dealing with banks. At the top level, the blended images, express “transparency”, a significant concept in banking communications since the crunch.

Nadav Kander’s portraits are oddly touching. In an interview with The Guardian newspaper in London about his show Bodies: 6 Women, 1 Man he says, “I like to show the truth. I like to show things that are paradoxical.” And these commercial images do the same thing – they are both human and ghostly. Some even feel “cyberpunk” in the meshing of flesh, machines and steel. And the biggest paradox of all, which makes these images so interesting is that these images express concepts of both “durability” and “change” – the solid structures aligned against the fluid water (tradition and change is an ongoing theme in Kander’s work, see Yangtze – The Long River).

And one more paradox. As Creative Director Alon Shoval remarks below, these are ads which question capitalism – a remarkable thought  for a series of images promoting a bank’s skill at Wealth Management. And yet that is why they ring true in 2013.


Nadav Kander for Morgan Stanley
Nadav Kander for Morgan Stanley’s ‘What If?’ campaign

Since the crash, banks don’t win many popularity contests. How much of a factor was this in shaping your strategy?

Alon Shoval: Morgan Stanley has always been a company built on doing “first-class business in a first class way.” We wanted to remind the world that Morgan Stanley has always stood for responsible capitalism and has a long history of helping investors through every crisis, including the most recent one.

Generally, what kinds of ideas have currency at the moment when communicating ‘big business’ or ‘finance?

Alon Shoval: Investors don’t want empty promises and clichéd visuals of wealth anymore, they want someone they can trust. That is what we tried to convey in our Morgan Stanley “What If? campaign.

Nadav Kander for Morgan Stanley
Nadav Kander for Morgan Stanley’s ‘What If?’ campaign

What did Morgan Stanley want to focus on? For example, a sense of history, ‘time’ and ‘making’ seem central to the imagery?

Alon Shoval: We wanted to question capitalism, allowing Morgan Stanley to emerge as the leader in helping the system work in the real world.

How did you choose your range of models, and what did they think of the final ‘portraits’?

Alon Shoval:The models were chosen and shot to reveal their true character. They are aspirational, but also are substantive and authentic.

Nadav Kander for Morgan Stanley
Nadav Kander for Morgan Stanley’s ‘What If?’ campaign

At what point in the conceptual process did you decide you needed Nadav Kander for this? What did you think he would bring to the campaign?

Alon Shoval: Nadav was the ideal artist to execute this idea. His portraiture, whether of the famous or the ordinary, uses the outside to reveal what is within.  His eye is unique and the subject never evades his penetrating lens.

What is the work process like when working with Nadav Kander? These images look like they are painstakingly constructed?

Alon Shoval: Nadav has the same relentless pursuit of crafted aesthetics as we do at The Martin Agency. We do not stop until the work belongs in a museum and neither does he. The Art Director, D’Arcy O’Neil, and the copywriter, Neel Williams, worked tirelessly on the marriage of the portraits and the location scenes, creating these magical images graced with equally striking words.

Nadav Kander for Morgan Stanley
Nadav Kander for Morgan Stanley’s ‘What If?’ campaign

The images feel like a blend of different genres ghostly, graphic full of detail.  They really stretch the idea of portraiture, not at all conventional, where was the work shown and what was the response?

Alon Shoval: The work was launched externally as double-page spreads in The Wall Street Journal and internally as huge images lining the halls of Morgan Stanley.  The response was unanimously positive. It’s rare that you find a financial client that wants to create communications on this level— but Morgan Stanley has always been a rare breed in the world of finance.


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