My favourite campaign - Barclaycard series was a credit to advertising

Toby Roberts applauds Barclaycard’s ads with Rowan Atkinson that managed to make a plastic card outshine a comic legend

Let's remember a time when "celebrity" financial ads didn't mean Michael Winner droning "calm down dear, it's only a commercial" in a way that manages to be simultaneously smug and wooden.

I'm talking about BMP's (now DDB) "Latham and Bough" campaign for Barclaycard that ran from 1991 to 1997. It starred Rowan Atkinson as the Clouseauesque secret agent, Richard Latham, and Henry Naylor as his long suffering sidekick, Bough, whose Barclaycard always managed to get them out of trouble.

Of course, things were different back then – Barclaycard was almost synonymous with "credit card" and, having seen off Access (probably due to this campaign), was having to defend its premium position in an increasingly price driven market.

This is where this campaign delivered in spades. Each execution in the series (there were 17) brilliantly dramatised a different aspect of Barclaycard's service, from purchase insurance to ATM access abroad.

And though the performances of the two central characters were always both hilarious and charming, they never overshadowed the product – it was Barclaycard that was always the hero and the product feature was always clearly communicated.

The celebrities were used to promote the product, not themselves – a principle that financial advertisers today should learn from. Not only that, but having the "everyman" Bough as the card's owner and placing him in a series of 007-style glamorous locations, struck exactly the right balance between realism and aspiration.

The campaign ended when Rowan Atkinson's character was apparently killed off – although he turned up in Rio in disguise in the final seconds of the ad. This was a slightly different execution as Barclaycard wasn't the hero, although it still featured, albeit briefly.

Doubtless today this would be considered inexcusable indulgence, but in a world where everyone now tells us they do "engagement" not "interruption" here's an example of a campaign that connected with consumers so strongly that an ad was made just to bid farewell to the characters.

Toby Roberts is head of strategy at OMDUK

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