OPINION: Beale on ... Halifax

Halifax advertising always exercises the Campaign office. Few ads excite the level of anticipation of a new addition to the Halifax oeuvre.

Some of us think that the ads are palatable whimsy: funny, ridiculous, of course, but a nice change from the dull, pompous tone found elsewhere in the financial advertising mire.

Some of us think the Halifax ads are empty, pointless exercises in patronising schmaltz, get-that-shotgun irritating and an insult to anyone with an atom of financial acumen.

I love them. Whether you're a lover or a loather, these ads are deliciously painful to watch. There's something exhilarating in their sheer bloody-minded refusal to acknowledge taste. Clearly, Delaney Lund Knox Warren & Partners (for whom Halifax is something of a creative highlight) has no shame, no depth of cheesiness at which it demures in pursuit of standout for its bank. This is car-crash advertising. You don't want to look, know it will make your stomach flip. But you can't help yourself.

Of course, they make you think that Halifax customers are rather simple souls and I wouldn't want to be one. But there's clearly something rather comforting about the fact that scary financial services can be reduced down to little rhymes to the tune of - in the case of the latest execution - I am Sailing.

The ad opens in a Halifax back-office. Someone starts doing a Rod Stewart and soon they're all at it, Mexican waving as they bastardise Rod's classic: "We are saving, we are saving, making waves like pioneers. Launched a rate that's extra great, so extra interest, every year."

Then it gets all Gilliam-ish; the staff raise the sails and the office block sails off across choppy waters. Oh, and there's Howard doing a Titanic on the roof. And now all the staff are there in X-formation, waving their lighters like spliffed-up festival-goers. The whole ad is one big kaleidoscopic, hallucinatory, amazing trip.

The point of all this is to launch the new Halifax Regular Saver account, which carries a 6 per cent rate of interest and should kick-start more savings, which could help Halifax's credit quality. As the UK's biggest mortgage provider, Halifax has rattled analysts with its exposure to the housing market. Nevertheless, 2003 pre-tax profits were up 30 per cent to £3.8 billion and HBOS looks on target to overtake Barclays as the UK's third-most profitable bank within the coming year.

Just like Abbey (2003 pre-tax losses: £686 million), there's little doubt that Halifax's advertising has made some contribution to this performance.

It's a brave, brilliant flouting of all that financial services ads are supposed to be. Yes, there's been the execrable, unfathomable and impenetrable diversion into the animated Howard. And the creative is showing a few wrinkles now. But where other banks are trying to get all down-to-earth and personal and end up being about as warm as a pensioner's flat, Halifax still pulls it off superbly, distinctively and effectively.

If you still spit on this type of advertising for being cheap and nasty, well that won't trouble HBOS's chief, James Crosby. Cheap is his mantra.

Last week, he unveiled a high-volume, low-prices strategy, "very much the Wal-Mart model," he said. So there you are. "Cheap" advertising, "cheap" banking: advertising and corporate strategic synergy. Quaint.

Dead cert for a Pencil? Only one with effectiveness written on it.

File under ... F for fun.

What would the chairman's wife say? "Didn't that Howard gentleman open

the WI bring and buy last year?"

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