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The giant blob of financial ads // First-mover Halifax // A spoof missed

01 Jun 2020  |  Dominic Mills 
The giant blob of financial ads // First-mover Halifax // A spoof missed

From unnecessary boasts to sanctimony, Covid-19 financial ads have soured on Dominic Mills. Plus: Halifax and New Commercial Arts; and how Specsavers failed to make us laugh

I’ll admit it. I’m suffering from lockdown meh. My concentration span is poor and ever-shorter, my observation powers in need of sharpening, serious thoughts are crowded out by the trivial, and my brain atrophying.

I don’t know if what follows in this week’s column may reflect that, or possibly the fact that adland has hit the summer lull. Perhaps both. So, rather than a roam around a large subject, this week’s column comprises reflections on a few things I noticed last week.

First up, I’ve had enough of a certain type of bank and financial services advertising. It feels like there’s too much of it, although perhaps that will change as the economy opens up and ‘non-essentials’ takes to the air.

A few weeks of banks telling us ‘we’re with you all the way to give support and help’ was fine. I understood that many of us had severe anxieties, many of which were financial. Banks needed to get the message over, even if it meant a remarkable uniformity of style and tone. Barclays, Lloyds, Halifax... you spring to mind.

Then, as stories circulated about the difficulties many small businesses had accessing via their banks government financing schemes, it rang increasingly hollow.

Now some banks are turning to boasting: Lloyds for example, telling us about its loan to the Love Teeth dental practice in Surrey which, since it is implemented under the government’s Coronavirus Business Interruption scheme is not quite as heroic an act as it would have us believe.

If the boast is at one end of the spectrum, a certain sanctimoniousness and nanny state-ism sits at the other. Tonally, it feels like the banks have been getting it wrong. Their ads are a collective blob of mush.

And so I thought at first with this Nationwide ad last week, the headline of which — 'Even as the lockdown eases, we want everyone to stay in their own homes’ — felt like a finger-wagging too far. FFS, I thought, why is a bank telling me how to behave?

It turns out I was too previous. Closer inspection of the copy makes it clear that Nationwide is actually talking about its Home Support Package, exactly the kind of help to renters and mortgage-holders that seems appropriate.

The copy is crisp, clear and friendly — without being overly so.

And it’s a change from the poems, for which I am grateful.

First-mover advantage to Halifax

That was quick. Two weeks after opening its doors, James Murphy’s New Commercial Arts agency has picked up its first client — Halifax.

No time wasted there, and Halifax is well-known to Murphy having spent nine years with him at A&E. That will ease any fears among NCA’s staff, who might have wondered if moving to a new agency mid-coronavirus lockdown was like jumping off a cliff with no landing in sight.

Halifax will also benefit from getting a fresh team, raring to go.

One small fear, however, will be that NCA will want to avoid being defined by its first client: the bigger the client, the bigger the concern. I’ve seen this before with start-ups. They win a landmark client and then struggle to move on.

I can’t see this happening with NCA. A senior client once told me that they had been keen to give A&E business pretty much from the get-go. This wasn’t completely out of a sense of altruism. First, they wanted access to fresh talent and thinking; second, they gave them low-risk or secondary brand projects; and third, it meant the agency was conflicted from working for any client competitors.

And here’s the challenge to NCA and Halifax: do better than this please. It can’t be that hard.

Come on, Specsavers, make us smile

I am dismayed... well, ok, disappointed... not to have seen a Specsavers ad last week.

A topical one. This is an area where we know the brand has form with contextual TV, as explained here, and with press and OOH ads with the ‘wrong’ winner at the Oscars in 2017.

You know what I’m talking about.

That Dominic Cummings trip to Barnard Castle to ‘test’ his eyesight cried out for a quick turnaround on a 'Should have gone to...’ one-off.

Looking at his choice of eyewear, he could well be a customer.

Shame. It would have made the nation laugh. Lord knows we could do with some. It’s clear when even a police commissioner tweets a spoof ad, the nation was ready. For those who haven’t had enough yet, here’s a collection of memes.

I don’t know why Specsavers passed the chance up. Was it too political, even though the sheer ridiculousness of the claim united voters across the spectrum?

Perhaps it is down to the fact that Specsavers’ in-house creative chief, Graham Daldry, left last month after 20 years with the brand. Largely unsung by the industry — perhaps because as an in-house unit he posed some kind of threat — Daldry was a true star producing work that was both memorable and effective. Better than that, at a time when fragmenting media made it hard to do so, he gave the nation a catchphrase so strong you don’t even need to name the brand.

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01 Jul 2020 

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