Halifax: summer 2010 TV ad campaign
Halifax: summer 2010 TV ad campaign
A view from Simon Kershaw

CREATIVE STRATEGY: It's not big and it's not clever, Halifax

Like any bunch of craftsmen pretending to be an "industry", advertising people have their peculiar jargon and coded language.

Take the word "populist" for example.

What does that mean in our little village? Well, folks, it translates as: the kind of advertising that the "man in the street" really quite likes, but awards juries wouldn’t give a second glance.

The Halifax used to excel at populism. Older readers may recall the TV commercials where teams of people would form themselves into an amazing gymnastic model of, say, a house.

Then someone discovered "Howard", who couldn’t sing or dance to save his life, but could apparently entertain the masses in a long succession of Halifax product ads.

Eventually Howard was killed off (not literally, though he was asking for it). None of his stand-ins cut the mustard and Halifax’s advertising seemed to drift. Perhaps they were just too busy counting their bonuses.

And now? After the global banking crisis and billions of pounds sunk into propping up pin-striped brigades of greedy incompetents, whither banking ads?

Well, in Halifax-land, it’s as if none of that happened.

Back in January, we had Halifax staff in a bizarre office radio studio, wittering on about giving customers a fiver a month – cue cheesy high fives all round – the same customers who bailed out the banks to the tune of £5,500 per family (according to The Daily Telegraph).

And the soundtrack to this utter bilge? 'Gold', Spandau Ballet’s hit from 1983, of course.

Like I said, all is just fine and dandy in Halifax-land. The Telegraph quoted Steve Griffiths, director of brand and customer marketing for Halifax, who said his ads "show that our colleagues are enthusiastic, friendly and approachable...We have a long history of entertaining adverts that feature colleagues and our latest adverts build on this heritage."

And how does this "entertainment" work in the press? Looking at one current example, it’s about as entertaining as one of Alistair Darling’s speeches.

The grinning "colleagues" are building a headline. In hot pink. Ooooh! ‘We’ve helped more first time buyers than anyone else’.  Bully for you. Shame then you couldn’t splash out on some half-decent photography.

Does anyone still think that a bank’s best proposition is brute scale? Does the fact that a bank has the most customers in a certain product category automatically convince me that it’s somehow "popular", let alone any good at its job?  

Maybe like a drunk with a skull-splitting hangover, the banks would like us all to simply forget the excesses of the past.  

This is not suggesting that financial services advertising must be apologetic or po-faced. But is it too much to ask for some genuine empathy rather than a third-rate vaudeville act?