Nationwide ‘greedy banker’ ads end up on the scrapheap

Nationwide 4Nationwide Building Society’s “tongue in cheek” ad campaign starring actor Dominic West as the greedy and unsympathetic head of a rival bank has been slapped down by the ad watchdog for being misleading, although the agency behind the campaign insists it was only banned on a “technicality”.

The campaign, devised by New Commercial Arts, featured TV, radio and a press executions, and first ran in October and November last year.

The TV ad opened with a shot of a building called “A.N.Y. BANK”, as the scene switched inside an office in the building on two colleagues in a conversational exchange.

The first individual, played by West, said: “Anyway cutbacks, initial thoughts, downsizing, I could make do with this office here I suppose, but that big space downstairs is? A bit over indulgent nowadays isn’t it?” His assistant then replied, “By downstairs do you mean, closing the actual branch?”

West then agreed, before his assistant replied: “But Nationwide aren’t.” West then said: “But we’re not Nationwide are we, we’re nothing like them” before he went on to make further comments about their branch and customers whilst on-screen text stated, “Publicly shared branch closures at Lloyds, bank of Scotland/Halifax, Natwest, Barclays, Santander and HSBC.”

The exchange was followed by a shot of a Nationwide branch with a voice-over that stated, “Unlike the big banks we’re not closing our branches.” On-screen text stated “Visit Nationwide.co.uk/ourpromise. Valid until 2026.”

The radio and press ads followed a similar theme, and repeated the line: “Unlike the big banks we’re not closing our branches.”

However, 281 people and rival bank Santander, were not amused and rifled off complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority. They understood that Nationwide had recently closed or reduced opening hours at a number of branches, and challenged whether the ads were misleading.

In its defence, Nationwide said it had introduced a “Branch Promise” in 2019 not to leave a town or city where there was not another Nationwide branch, adding that it had strengthened that Branch Promise in 2023.

While it conceded it had closed 20 branches between July 2022 and December 2023, it claimed that figure fell within the exclusions listed in its previous Branch Promise of 2019.

Nationwide said that it was “committed to maintaining [our] branch network,” adding that, at the time the ads were seen, the information regarding the Branch Promise on its website had not been updated to reflect the new 2023 promise.

The building society also clarified its most recent branch closure took place in April 2023, nearly six months before the ad campaign started, so it did not believe the claims were misleading.

Meanwhile, ad clearing house Clearcast said it had discussed the claims and substantiation provided by Nationwide thoroughly. Nationwide provided it with substation that showed comparative data related to the closure of branches from relevant banks.

Even so, the ASA was unimpressed with these arguments, saying that the line “But we’re not Nationwide are we, we’re nothing like them” alongside the statement “Unlike the big banks, we’re not closing our branches” was likely to be interpreted by viewers as suggesting that Nationwide had taken a decision to keep their branches open because of an understanding of the benefits for their customers.

The regulator added that the radio and press ads, which featured the line “Unlike the big banks, we’re not closing our branches”, were likely to make people understand that Nationwide had opted to keep their branches open.

Although the claims in the campaign related to its 2023 promise, which guaranteed Nationwide would not close any of its branches until at least 2026, the ASA concluded that the inclusion of the promise could “mislead” people.

The watchdog stated: “Had the timeframe been made clearer in the ads, we considered that would likely have overridden the impression that the Branch Promise related to the longer term.”

However, it went on to ban the ads from running again in their current form and warned Nationwide about future activity.

But New Commercial Arts chief executive and co-founder James Murphy has seemingly thrown his toys out of the pram. He told Campaign magazine: “The vast majority of issues raised with the ASA were not upheld. The ruling was only upheld on a technicality over legal copy, despite being approved by Clearcast.

“While others have been complaining, Nationwide has been busy strengthening its Branch Promise further – extending it to the start of 2028 – as advertised in the national press last week. We will continue to highlight this even stronger claim moving forward.”

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