OPINION: BEALE ON ... ABBEY

Sod the drawn-out pitch formalities that cost agencies so much energy and resource only to end in protracted decision-by-committee. When Luqman Arnold, the chief executive of Abbey, handed his creative account to TBWA\London on the basis of an informal chemistry meeting, it was an act of gut confidence all too rare among clients.

The snap decision was also a sign of Arnold's sense of urgency and the imperative for change. A $1 billion loss can have that effect. So when it came to reshaping the Abbey National brand, Arnold and the City were never likely to be satisfied with a tweak to the logo.

The Abbey that has emerged from the overhaul is an interesting beast. After a year of record losses, a plummeting share price and City opprobrium, Abbey is returning to its core mortgage and savings heartland. Most obviously, it has lost its National moniker and tired old logo, but as rebrands go these are pretty insubstantial changes. More fundamental is the new Abbey's approach to customer communications. It's done away with the jargon designed to keep customers in their place by blinding them with the science of (their) money. So the savings accounts are now called things such as "Easy Reach", "Put Aside" and "Lock Away".

Underpinning it all is the new ad campaign teasing that "banking isn't good enough. Yet" and "something good is happening to banking". The TV ad has a great crane seen through the window of a cafe, lifting up the bank opposite and turning the damn thing on its head.

It's a powerful, if obvious, image, unsatisfyingly executed. For what could be a stunning technical extravaganza of "Manhattan" proportions, this is a strangely muted ad. There's no sense of drama or anticipation.

Customers in the bleak cafe carry on unmoved by the building gymnastics.

Thanks to the faux realism and washed-out tone of the foreground scenes, the whole ad feels flat and grey. Presumably that's to contrast with the acid-trippy endframe of rainbow colours revealing the new Abbey look.

But the change of pace, with the jaunty jingle, is instead excruciatingly incongruous.

Where the new Abbey approach might really work is in its branches and its direct communications with customers. But there doesn't seem to be enough meat in the above-the-line marketing push - yet - to persuade potential customers to go through the hell involved in moving banks. What will this new bank do for me? I'm none the wiser from this ad.

Given that most of us change banks as often as Tony Blair admits he's wrong, this launch phase of Abbey's new campaign doesn't go far enough.

No doubt the devil of detail will follow, and supporting advertising will hit a more informative note. But the TV ad isn't persuasive enough to send me scurrying for more detail.

Analysts who study this sort of thing have suggested that the relaunched Abbey doesn't actually have much new to offer customers. There is no hike in interest rates for savers, no big rate cuts for borrowers or any new initiative to lock in mortgage customers. Could the rebrand be nothing more than a repackaging to appeal to a potential acquisitor?

Abbey's airtime is up against a new burst of advertising from First Direct, which has a couple of customers enthusing about what their bank does for them. This campaign is warm, the customers likeable, the benefits clear and the whole tone cosily reassuring. Beside it, the Abbey statement just looks like another big bank flexing its corporate muscle underneath a cloak of happy-clappy rainbow colours. It's not good enough. Yet.

Dead cert for a Pencil? Too forgettable to stand out with a jury.

File under ... Y for yet another bank that claims to be doing it

differently.

What would the chairman's wife say? "Do their credit cards come in

black?"

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1 Job description: Digital marketing executive

Digital marketing executives oversee the online marketing strategy for their organisation. They plan and execute digital (including email) marketing campaigns and design, maintain and supply content for the organisation's website(s).