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.

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