Top UK Banks – As Seen on TV


TV Adverts are not Branding, dear Banks – but if they were…

seen When I write I sit down and pour it out. Many of you remarked that it’s sometimes not even proofread and I’ve taken to forcing myself to re-read once before I publish so I avoid that level of disrespect, but nonetheless it’s not my style to work on a piece for days, it either “flows” or it’s not worth writing. Not this once. This one needed a lot of research. Some of it was pleasant but most of it was painful.

I’d recommend you save this article for some evening when you can pour a cuppa, put your feet up and open each link in a new tab because we all know what happens once you see one YouTube video…

It started from having caught my first Nationwide commercial in a cinema this weekend and having found it moving.

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The only other one I could cite off the top of my head that I liked was HSBC’s “Museum of Procrastination” -which I loved so much I wished they’d hire that ad agency to run the whole bank- while all I could remember of Lloyds was that it had black horses. Having lived in the UK for over two years now and making a living from examining banks this was a situation I needed to correct.

I watched a good 80-100 commercials from the major UK banks (and one day when I retire I may do the same for all the major international retail banks) and at first intended to be utterly exhaustive (and was not, the likes of Coop and other smaller banks and building societies were left out) and diligently organized on scoring them based on audience, targeting ability, likability, clarity, etc. As I was going, I realized my scoring system is far from foolproof and I am not conducting a scientific study here so that good intention was replaced by “How it made me feel” as sole determining factor for the following top so feel free to sharpen those “but we won an award with that one” pitchforks.

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8th (and last) Place: LLOYDS

Whose idea were the creepy horses series, guys? this is as failed in its artsy pretentious tone as Barclays asking Samuel Jackson to talk about chickens. Not that it’s your only painful one – the Take a Second campaign is cringe-worthy – no one will give me back my 3 minutes of having to see this

While the low production value such as the Filling Station TV advert and the Clubs ones kind of work and functionally do what we expect them to – tell us we can get features, this brand new one is absolutely taking the cake as the worst I’ve seen: not only is the angel of death horse back again but the Mad World Donnie Darko sound track makes it extra creepy! Please stop!

7th Place: BARCLAYS

If you can afford Hollywood why not use it? I hadn’t seen the Big one with Sir Anthony Hopkins or the Samuel Jackson series but neither made me feel anything at all.

Here is one that made me feel something. The LifeSkills campaign. A mixture of emotions – none positive. Mainly awe at how far removed I must be from the millenials that are the target market that I can not comprehend how they would find it anything but patronizing and condescending. – not to mention it is just objectionably badly made.

I had to dig to the end of the internet to find this very old Truman Show inspired Barclays commercial that was not bafflingly bad and dig out the only funny one from Pingit but neither rocked my world.

6th Place: RBS and NATWEST

I found the following – the NatWest 1991 advert, that one time when RBS was funny on the old Less Talk campaign and multiple NatWest haters who bothered to make songs about their dislike

But this Bills Reward account advert is not bad at all as it’s all too relatable, don’t we all have that one light switcher-off-er in the house?

And this one is absolutely on point on what it feels like to pay with ApplePay (when it works) even if that’s universal to all banks who offer it and nothing to do with NatWest in particular as compared to this Lloyds one for ApplePay that’s perfectly pointless

All in all I was stunned to see that for all the care Lloyds and HSBC take to try and make their portfolio discernable individually with various degrees of success, RBS and NatWest do none of that and are one big lump messaging wise.

5th Place: TSB

This gets me dizzy but it’s worth seeing as a –true- story of community banking ethos. The current cartoons are underwhelming but clear and some may like them although the new pointy characters are not as endearing as their Disney like predecessors of a few years ago. All in all middle of the road and non-objectionable but with somewhat of a brand identity hence why they deserve an entry of their own.

4th Place: Halifax

If you dig as far back as 2008 you find their corny but cute Something New or Who let the dog out series but then they had their Howard Brown light bulb moment and it all changed for Halifax – a coup to make a regular employee a star – what better way to get people to feel intimately engaged in the story?

These days their X-tra kind of person series are sweet and well executed and their Jargon Buster series is the only serious financial literacy attempt I’ve seen.

 3rd Place: Nationwide

I admitted already I liked the BestDad commercial, a lot. By the way watch this behind the scenes which is a strike of genius on the part of the agency as it’s sweeter than the commercial in itself

And then there are the Annoying Bank Manager series and the iconic Ladies Little Britain one

The only negative is that when I found this commercial for Impulse Saving it spoke to me so much I downloaded their app! But evidently got nowhere with it as the Impulse Save thing is only available to customers and I have to go to a branch to become one and bring 100 papers yadda yadda– such a missed acquisition opportunity, there was no reason not to let me set a saving goal before I signed in!

2nd Place: HSBC, First Direct (and Atom!)

I went looking for this – and I still think it is a strike of genius that resonates with anyone but before I could enter another search term the next video YouTube served me was “Panorama – HSBC the Bank of Tax Cheats” which has 20k views as compared to the 4k the actual commercial has which seems a bit unfair.

Nonetheless I dare you to watch these two oldies on the importance of local knowledge and not laugh – the infamous Eels one and the Flowers one

There is a concerted effort at the heart of what HSBC does to both tell stories and position themselves as local and yet connected. This sadly still doesn’t make them a brand, simply a strong name with a good marketing story or this quality of effort and thought would have trickled down to their customers who meanwhile endure painful digital experiences. Their ad agencies and Wealth and Retail Marketing department should stage a coup and take over the whole thing and force their digital into this century of technology– heaven knows they need it.

HSBC won awards for their genius Airport series and if one has to choose a bank that did amazing on marketing it would be HSBC in particular with their FirstDirect efforts. Whether you love or hate the Black and white Platypus series you can’t deny Mark Mullen is a marketing genius and if you’re not convinced go to Atom’s website today and click on “Uncomplicated”. Go on, do it, I’ll wait. Exactly! THAT is why this category includes all three of these names.

First Place: Santander

Adverts can be of two kinds really – either funny or heart string pullers and while most other English high street banks seem to dabble in both sequentially, Santander manages to do both at the same time and that makes their overall message powerful. Who can deny that their keep on getting a little bit more out of life” is sweet and more importantly how genius of a line is this one? “Dads, keep on dadding”

Then there is their continual effort and an experimentation with viral tries – if you haven’t seen the campaign look it up as the #SecretSantander stuff is SO endearing I’m proud to be their client this one from 2014 and then last year’s

They say it’s “Simple, personal, fair” – heart stringy but then they also add a bite with “it’s what a bank should be” and that spirit can be felt across the brand.

And if that was not enough, there is one major reason why Santander wins this one for me and if you watch none of the other ones watch this one – it will make it all worth it, believe me –

To be fair, none of all these made me feel like my favourite bank commercial or rather, bank-brand commercial – this one from CheBanca! but then again someone suggested the other day that “it is preposterous to presume such corny debauchery could be presented on English screens” and that can well be the case.

Lastly and most importantly again: marketing is not branding dear banks, it’s only a part of the overall impression you leave us with.

The length of the phone queue and the music played meanwhile is branding, the carpets in the branch are branding, the words you choose when answering a customer on Twitter is branding, the way the mobile app feels helpful or annoying is branding, what your CEO looks like is branding (maybe Lloyds should have fared better now that I say that…). All of it. Everything you do translates into an experience and how that experience makes us feel is what your brand is like to us. I know you’re not confused about this dear banks, as it’s a fairly simple concept so don’t be using it as an excuse to be lazy and leave this to your Marketing department which clearly already has enough trouble trying to make non-horrible adverts.

Coffee and the #FinTech Bubble

Disclaimer: If you started reading this in the hopes that it will be chock full of figures to sustain my point, you may want to stop now. This is a ranty personal view and if you choose to read it, you’ll have to source your own reports to prove or disprove it depending on what side of this equation you find yourself in and what makes it easier to get through your FinTech day.

I get a lot of “My name is John Smith and I am as of now interested in FinTech and available on Monday at 15 pm around Monument, I will buy you a coffee to hear your opinions as your name keeps coming up” demands on Twitter. Needless to say this thrills me as I love coffee. Also because I’m independently wealthy and do not need to worry about selling my time and knowledge as a consultant. (This, for those of us who sometimes miss it in my articles, is sarcasm.)

There is an acute devaluation happening in FinTech. Of knowledge, of time and of actual sums of money. There is no point wondering why there are no “became rich through FinTech” stories as we may attribute that to it not having yet reached its potential, neither is there any point discussing the plight of trying to sell knowledge in a market intent on maintaining mediocre standards of know-how that accommodate the status quo. But it’s worth looking at the bigger numbers thrown around in the industry to see if those at least reward value. It seems the numbers simply don’t make sense here either. Part of it is normal dilution as the space is becoming overcrowded but part of it is baffling.

I don’t begrudge the superstar fund raisers their 10th round or their undeserved billion evaluation as it’s not all about whether eTorro is better than the host of other propositions in its space or SoFi is the exact same one as tens of other attempts in the US P2P market albeit with a more defined segment, it’s about who was in front of investors when they agreed to it. Same goes for why a new challenger bank would raise tens of million on a hope and a dream while a comparable proposition would have raised a quarter of that in their entire existence.

That may not be intuitively fair but it’s normal. Technology has never been about the pure product or solution but about what it is that transforms it from a scientific endeavor to a business proposition – the people behind it.

With that said, there has to be an intersection point where value of people’s salemanship can not cover lack of tangible technology, right? There is no way we, the industry, would finance absolutely non-existent preposterous propositions yet let valuable tech fall by the side of our golden bricks pathway, right? We may get confused by the lack of established vernacular and intentional consultancy speak making everything sound equally shinny and impressive and we may fall in love with some of their people but surely in our hearts of hearts we know enough collectively that the overall result will be one of the wheat separating itself from the chaff, right? Wrong.


In the past 2-3 years it’s almost like we’ve become inundated with both people and proposals that are of very limited quality and yet we’ve also gotten less and less willing to be vocal about it. If knowledge is the emperor, the emperor is slowly shedding his clothes in our industry and we’re going to stand by and watch it become butt naked and not even point and snigger. We make wider and wider of bets. We’re less and less inclined to ever call a spade a spade and we found a way to believe this bubbling format of hundreds of incubators and accelerators, 30 challenger banks in one country only and growing YoY in people and solutions at a astounding rate is normal.

We are even so far removed from common sense that we can wonder IF this is a bubble. We compare ourselves with Tech in general, they are booming, in a healthy manner right? Why not FinTech, then? Because “Tech” is the underbelly of everything. Every aspect of our lives. FinTech is an overgrown mushroom of one thing only: the way money providers sort out their backend and their frontend to answer consumer needs.

Think about it – ours is a gazillion-billion industry which we believe will forever continue to thrive built solely around the fact that banks and others were unable to get their act straight on their own. Same goes for insurance hence the now emerging “InsureTech”. Where is RetailTech though? Or AutoTech?

One would argue it’s not only fixing but looking ahead and innovating and disrupting hence the space for the flock of savior-unicorns but why are we so accepting of the premise that innovation was only their apanage and non-accessible to the incumbents? Because they are big monolithic organizations paralyzed by a culture of fear to move which is why they need FinTech. Circular, isn’t it?

Most of us have accepted that a period of serious maturing and consolidation has to happen in FinTech fast and in a few years it will hopefully, mercifully even disappear as a term and be just “Tech” once again (with its wonderful Augmented Reality, Design DNA, Data and AI focus as the visionary of us – Brett King for instance have noticed). It will mean we finally got our collective house in order and are able to give people access and overview of their MoneyMoments in a simple, enjoyable way that flows into their lives.

I believe we are no further than 3, maybe 5 years away before this whole industry built on how culture prevented banks from fulfilling their purpose would have finally deflated and shrunk to a maybe a quarter of its size today so I would say taking a sudden interest in having FinTech coffees with me may be a poor career choice at this time, John.

Innovation and the Banking Hall Pass

I saw an “Innovation for you” – tagline in a Phillips ad the other day and it made me think. Have some companies lost touch with real consumer points of interest and excitement that they blurred the line between industry talk and consumer talk? If so maybe this is one of our many ailments in banking.

It’s innovation for you, dear company, it’s “new” or “better” for the consumer. Yes innovation is good, innovation is grand but that’s an internal conversation, you do so for yourself, so that you remain relevant to your consumer, it isn’t a gift for the customer.

What matters to the consumer is that you give them “good”, “fun” and “useful” products, services and features (well in banking those would translate to “acceptable”, “not mind-numbingly boring” and “usable”) not whether they are innovative.


Maybe this is why some banks are content building and maintaining an Innovation Lab instead of delivering anything out of it to the end customer because they believe “innovation is for them”.

To consumers innovation translates to progress and progress is expected. No one expects technology to do anything other than deliver better, faster and bigger experience returns ever so often. From electronics to cars to apps, we’re a generation of consumers with a high threshold for amazement and incredibly lofty expectations of progress and improvement in everything in interact with and purchase in shorter and shorter time spans. We didn’t even know that a tablet would exist a few years ago, but we now instinctively expect the next version to be lighter, smarter, brighter and generally better in every way and we expect the next version to reach us within months of the first one. Or else.

We’re fickle and impatient as consumers, now. Innovation is not for us, it’s for you company selling us something to stay in the game and satisfy our impatience and penchant for awe.

Granted, as I said many times, in banking the sense of urgency and necessity is dramatically lower as consumers keep giving digital and physical services from banks a hall pass they give no other type of retailer.

When I ordered a cold drink at Starbucks and they handed me a hot one – do you know what happened? They apologised profusely for the mix up that cost me 5 minutes’ delay and handed me a card explaining they would do anything for my love including giving me a free beverage next time I’m back. I was stunned and pleasantly surprised and resolved to remain loyal. (The first time only, the next time that it happened, I expected it.)

When I tried to close my business account with HSBC and jumped through 1000 loops that cost me hours and they assured me it was done only to send me a statement the next month as if none of that had transpired – do you know what happened? A lady on the phone told me in monotone “computer says NO” tones that there was likely a mix up and I would have to come in and do it all over again. I was raging and angry but realised I have to still do it. (The first time only, the next time that it happens, I’ll expect it. In fact I will expect it not to work the second time around.)

When Starbucks will innovate they’ll employ predictive analytics to work out it’s my diet cheat day and send out a barista to wait for me as I exit the tube on the way to work to offer me a cheeky caramel latte. When HSBC innovates they’ll stop losing paperwork and employ people who don’t sound soul-dead.

Neither of these “innovations” will be “for me” though.

In banking, this new found preoccupation with FinTech may force some banks (new or old) to realise Innovation needs to be part of their DNA ladder and when they do, they’ll offer us consumers things so awesome, we may soon run out of hall passes for their competitors.