The Corporate Archives curates physical and digital exhibits from our collections to tell BMO’s story over the years. Our aim is to provide a better understanding of the defining moments in our history.

History of logos and slogans

Branding plays a significant role in how companies are recognized, and BMO Financial Group’s branding story has gone through quite the evolution. This exhibit explores some of the iconic logos and slogans that BMO has used, as well as some from companies that have joined us over the years.

1837 – Original coat of arms

BMO’s first use of a corporate identifier was on its 1837 tokens. Due to our close relationship with the city of Montreal, we borrowed the same coat of arms featuring the rose of England, the thistle of Scotland, and the shamrock of Ireland.

Image: 1837 token with the original Bank of Montreal coat of arms.

1911 – Harris iconic logo

The Harris Trust and Savings Bank began using the lion as its symbol in 1911.

Image: Bas relief lion on the façade of the center building at 115 West Monroe in Chicago, 1960.

1920s – Growth of the Harris symbol

Harris advertisements through the years reflect the changing times.

Images: Various Harris advertisements, 1917 and 1962

1934 – Bank of Montreal coat of arms

In 1934, the bank decided to register its coat of arms to make it official. The original coat of arms did not meet official standards of the College of Arms, which resulted in a redesign. According to the rules of heraldry set out by the College, the supporting Indigenous figures were required to stand, as opposed to their seated position that was featured on subsequent designs. The smaller beaver within the shield replaced the fleur-de-lys from the original, while the symbols of the bank’s British heritage – the rose of England, the thistle of Scotland and the shamrock of Ireland – remained. It is one of the most iconic of its kind in Canada. The official armorial bearing of the bank was granted by the College of Arms on April 21, 1934.

Image: Bank of Montreal coat of arms registered with the College of Arms, 1934.

1945 – “My Bank” slogan

At the end of the Second World War, Canadians were looking forward to a new age of prosperity and consumerism, and eager to embrace change. The formal institutions of the past now seemed “stuffy” and out of touch. Tuned in to changing times, Bank of Montreal launched its “My Bank” campaign, targeting average Canadian consumers like never before and ushering in a new period of innovation and growth. “My Bank” reflected a focus on the individual and tapped into the belief that managing money to achieve a prosperous, happy life requires a bank that understands your values and lifestyle goals and is a partner in helping you achieve them. The campaign was a turning point for Bank of Montreal – not only because of its success, but also because it helped to define its brand and identified what made the bank different. The perspective that “Money is personal” continues to guide the bank’s work today.

Image: Advertisement with “My Bank” slogan, 1948.

1950s – Hubert

Hubert is a cartoon lion who helped the Harris Bank introduce itself to the world of retail banking in the late 1950s. When the Harris Bank bought the Chicago National Bank in 1960, Hubert’s image helped to establish a warm, friendly image for the bank. By any measure, Hubert has been a remarkably durable and successful “spokeslion” for the Bank and the most recognizable symbol in Chicago banking, for years vaulting Harris into the leading-bank position in terms of advertising.

Hubert the Lion had several parents. Dr. Agha, a New York art consultant, did some layouts that would prove to be the forerunner to Hubert. From this idea, Ben Laitin, Norm Houk, and Dick Weiner of Leo Burnett Company, an advertising agency, developed the cartoon character “Hubert the Harris Lion” in the fall of 1957 for the 1958 advertising campaign.

Hubert first appeared in the Chicago Tribune on March 26, 1958. The bankers of Harris agreed to the name – after some suggestions were considered and discarded (Harris, Leo) – and used the spokeslion for a savings advertising campaign. Later consideration of a possible name change elicited a memorandum from Hubert himself on February 6, 1958 (on Leo Burnett Company letterhead, however) agreeing to a “face-lift” but resisting any name change. “Hubert is just right for my new role. Aristocratic but not snobbish. Unusual but not bizarre. Faintly amusing but not snicker-making. Dignified but not stuffy. So why can’t I be Hubert, like I was christened … Shucks fellers. Why not just let me be? Hubert that is.”

Hubert was a sensation, commanding widespread attention not only from the public but also from public relations professionals across the United States. He was used in print from 1958 on. He debuted on TV in 1962 with a series of animated twenty-second spots and eventually became one of the most recognizable fictional animals in the United States, alongside Smokey Bear and Tony the Tiger. Hubert also knew how to draw new customers with Hubert-inspired promotions that set records. His popularity continued on television. He was reproduced in ceramic cookie jars, clocks, and the original Hubert doll. If Leo Burnett created Hubert, it was Chicago-area artist Sam Koukios (1929–2009) who standardized Hubert’s look. Koukios was the official Hubert artist for over three decades, called upon for virtually every advertising campaign when Hubert was needed. On Koukios’s death in 2009, Senior Marketing Executive Justine Fedak eulogized him as the artist who “brought so much character” to the lion, ensuring Hubert kept with the times.

Hubert has become one of Chicago’s most recognized and beloved icons. He has also been one of the most successful advertising phenomena in the history of Chicago banking. Hubert has transcended his category to symbolize trust, comfort, and credibility in the bank’s offerings and expertise. He has also become a cultural phenomenon with whom BMO Harris bankers are proud to be associated.

Image: “The Life Story of The Harris Lion,” cover of illustrated booklet about Hubert, 1972.

1950s – Canada’s first

Being “first” in Canada has long been a source of pride for people at BMO. The line “Canada’s first bank” began appearing in the window of bank branches in 1950 and was adopted as the standard sign-off in our advertising. In 1967, when the “M-Bar” logo was launched, the tagline became an official part of the brand. Later, when a vibrant blue was adopted in place of green as the bank’s official colour, it immediately became known as “First Bank Blue.”

Image: Advertisement with “The First Canadian Bank” slogan, 1972.

1967 – M-Bar

The M-Bar logo was the brainchild of Hans Kleefeld of Stewart & Morrison Ltd, Toronto. Kleefeld was one of Canada’s greatest graphic designers of his day, giving logographic identities to key Canadian institutions, including Air Canada, Molson, Seagram, and Johnson & Johnson. The new logo was unveiled with great enthusiasm by Chairman and CEO Arnold Hart in 1967 as “another major development being taken by the ‘new’ Bank of Montreal to advance our image of vitality and service.” The new look was to match the new outlook at the bank, rendered in “First Bank Blue,” a strong light shade that became the bank’s official colour.

Designer Clair Stewart once said that there were two things that made a corporate logo last: “it has to be designed well, and the company must be absolutely convinced that the design that’s being presented to them is just the right one for them.” In the case of the M-Bar, half a century of continuous and proud use has made it one of the most evocative and well-recognized symbols in Canadian enterprise.

Image: Announcement of the Bank of Montreal logo and M-Bar, 1967.

1970s – Let’s talk

“Let’s Talk” was introduced in the early 1970s as an invitation to customers to discuss the bank’s products and services – mortgages, loans, travel services, and more. The campaign reflected the bank’s customer-centric philosophy and its focus on finding new ways to address the needs, wants, and goals of Bank of Montreal customers. The radio advertising campaign featured the voice of Leslie Nielsen, a popular actor and comedian of the day.

Image: Items with Bank of Montreal branding, including a coffee cup featuring the “Let’s Talk” slogan.

1985 – Doing more for you

In April 1985, the bank launched a nationwide campaign with a new slogan: “Doing more for you” which reflected a major transformation in the way the bank served its customers. The campaign and slogan were focused on letting customers know that the bank could evolve with their needs.

Image: Advertisement with “Doing more for you” slogan, 1985.

1992 – We’re paying attention

In May 1991, the bank launched a new image campaign – one that had emerged from the landmark Corporate Strategic Plan. Therefore, the slogan “We’re Paying Attention” represented an important public declaration of the direction of the bank under Matthew W. Barrett and Tony Comper. In some ways, it sought to break away from the past, signalling that “Canada’s oldest financial institution” would take “a radical departure from conventional bank advertising.” The theme of paying attention (and for the Francophone market “Au delà de l’argent, il y des gens”) was developed after a year of intensive research that polled bank employees, customers, and the public. The “customer of the 1990s” demanded more of everything, especially superior customer service. The focus on customer service was, in a sense, carried over from the 1980s, but there was an urgency and a fresh emphasis on broadening and deepening that commitment in light of the major new strategic direction the bank was taking in the early 1990s. “Excellence in customer service is not something new at Bank of Montreal,” Tony Comper wrote in April 1991. “But for the first time we are going to talk openly about it to Canadians. Our new image campaign will stand out from any other bank advertising in the country and will place us first in our customers’ minds.”

The creative element of the new campaign and slogan was executed by the bank’s two advertising agencies, Vickers & Benson and Publicité Martin. Three initial English advertisements focused on three themes. The first was “Vision” – to introduce the world to the bank’s commitment to change for the better and its promise of bringing service back to banking. The second element was “Employees,” featuring Bank of Montreal employees discussing their increased participation within the new strategy, as well as their individual approaches to superior customer service. The third element, “Customers,” focused on customers sharing their views on what set Bank of Montreal apart from and above other financial institutions.

The bracing freshness of the approach struck a chord with both customers and employees alike: “Banking is perceived as a very large and sometimes faceless operation,” one voice-over in a commercial suggested, “That’s what we’ve got to change … I think banking’s a customer business, a people business.” And another: “We want to walk around with pride, and we’re starting to do that.” That, in essence, is what the bank was paying attention to: their customers, their employers, and the increasingly personalized nature of banking.

Image: Advertisement with “We’re Paying Attention” slogan, 1992.

1994 – It is possible

The slogan “It is possible” was introduced in May 1994, accompanied by the launch of The Possibility Network, which offered free consulting for both customers and non-customers. The service provided personalized information packages to people based on their specific circumstances or financial goals. This extraordinary initiative underlined the many ways the bank could help unlock new possibilities for individuals and communities. Appreciated for its boldness and willingness to break the banking mould, the campaign was an instant hit.

Image: Advertisement with “It is possible” slogan, 1994.

1997 – Can a bank change?

Many were shocked when Bank of Montreal launched its television campaign asking the rhetorical question, “Can a bank change?” It wasn’t so much the question itself that created controversy, although it was a provocative theme for its day. No, it was the soundtrack: Bob Dylan’s iconic, “The Times They Are a-Changin’”, the anti-establishment anthem of the Sixties. The campaign again set BMO apart from its competitors – at a time when most saw little difference among Canada’s big banks.

2002 – BMO roundel

We call it the BMO roundel. It came into general use in 2002, when the bank decided it was the right time to bring all its businesses under a unified BMO Financial Group brand. At the time, BMO was operating more than 30 lines of business, including Harris Bank and BMO Nesbitt Burns. The move to a shared identity signalled a renewed commitment to helping customers make real financial progress as a single, diversified North American bank.

Image: Photograph of exterior of First Canadian Place in Toronto, showing BMO’s red roundel and logo at the entrance to the building’s BMO branch, c. 2011.

2014 – We’re here to help

In 2014, BMO refined our brand promise of “Making money make sense” with a campaign focused on defining the human touch that sets BMO apart. Working with input from BMO employees, the bank selected the tagline, “We’re here to help,” inspired by the Harris campaign from 2006.

Image: “We’ll help you get into the home you’re into,” advertisement from “We’re here to help” campaign, 2014.

2019 – Boldly Grow the Good in business and life

BMO’s Purpose, to Boldly Grow the Good in business and life, informs our strategy, drives our ambition, and reinforces our commitment to grow the good. It’s how we are driving progress for our colleagues, customers and communities. It calls us to think bigger and aim higher, and with that mindset, we introduced a set of Bold Commitments – to Grow the Good for a Sustainable Future, a Thriving Economy and an Inclusive Society – ensuring a bold future that is inclusive, drives progress, and where everyone prospers.