Limbo has created a novel approach to a notoriously hard sell, Emma Hall
Creating an impact in the financial services sector is hard enough using
big, above-the-line budgets, so in direct marketing the challenge is
The obvious, easy and over-used route is to use shock tactics, with
disturbing headlines and stark photography. It is often assumed that
nobody will read reams of copy unless they are frightened into it by the
threat of impending death or maiming.
The NatWest Bank, however, has shunned threatening behaviour and instead
tries to coax customers under its protective wing, with a new campaign
through Bartle Bogle Hegarty’s below-the-line agency, Limbo.
The main visuals are of a little boy, dressed up for a day’s work in a
hard hat and overalls, with a headline asking: ‘Ever wondered who’d pay
the bills if you were too ill to work again?’ The campaign consists of
in-branch activity, telemarketing, advertorials in the Daily Mail and
Daily Express, and direct mail to existing NatWest Life customers.
The tone of the campaign contrasts with advertising for many rival
products. One Midland Bank press execution, for instance, shows a man
limping through hospital, with the headline: ‘Can you afford to survive
a heart attack?’
Norwich Union uses equally depressing images. A picture of a sad,
middle-aged man carries the headline: ‘If I’d known I was going to have
a stroke I’d have saved up.’ The copy warns: ‘To be honest, you’re going
to need some help...Don’t think it won’t happen to you.’
Jane Todd, an account director at Limbo, condemns this approach. She
claims: ‘Those companies talk down to their clients like a parent to a
child. NatWest has respect for its customers, and knows that they are
not stupid - they know the consequences of illness without having them
Midland Bank defends its approach as factual and positive. Belinda
Furneaux-Harris, the bank’s head of advertising and promotion, says:
‘Given the appallingly low interest in this sector, we have to make an
impact, but we are not attempting to scaremonger.’
She explains the problem: ‘Advertising critical illness products is
undoubtedly a sensitive area - there is no easy way of getting round the
fact that policies only pay out if you suffer one of about six very
serious and very frightening illnesses.’
Allied Dunbar’s ‘There may be trouble ahead’ campaign can be compared
with NatWest in that it nudges the consumer gently into a reminder of
reality, rather than frightening them into getting an insurance policy.
Limbo, however, is not claiming that NatWest has suddenly developed a
conscience. Instead, Todd admits that the company needs a point of
difference from the clutter of other financial services ads.
She says: ‘There is so much financial advertising, and you can’t show
the product because it’s just a piece of paper, so we create an impact
by showing a ridiculous and attention-grabbing image.’
Is making consumers feel guilty any better than terrifying them? Todd’s
defence is that, with only a few seconds to grab attention, the ‘aah
factor’ can be a useful device, especially when targeting families. But
she insists that the campaign’s fundamental point of difference is that
it treats the consumer with respect.