OPINION: Mills on ... Bradford & Bingley

Wake up class. Hands up all those who've read Naomi Klein's No

Logo. Hmmm. Well, I can proudly report that I've got as far as page 72.

It's not that I'm not enjoying it, it's just that, well, I'm a slow

reader and there's lots of other stuff going on.



What's all this got to do with this week's column? The answer is that

I've been looking for some kind of contextual reference through which to

consider the ad that is the subject of this week's column - and thanks

to Ms Klein I think I've found it.



'Ah', you say, 'but what ad is that? That's a picture of The Independent

of 27 March. There are no ads there.'



Well, true - sort of. But take a closer look at the front page,

specifically the yellow part of the skyline above the masthead. There it

says: 'Special issue today. Read the first newspaper to be published

with no advertising.'



Read more closely still, especially the small column at the bottom of

the front page, where it explains that Bradford & Bingley has bought

every ad site in the paper - including the classified - only to give the

sites back to the paper to fill with editorial, an extra 40 per cent to

be precise.



Which is how we get to have a paper with no ads - well, none apart from

half the skyline and that tiny column on the front page which mentions a

B&B website, marketplace.co.uk. Except that the whole thing, in some

kind of inverted way, is actually an ad. A non-ad that is an ad, you

might say. Now you might see why using Ms Klein as a reference point

might come in handy.



Let's start by examining the business context behind this unusual, some

might say barking, decision by Bradford & Bingley and its media buyer,

New PHD (I know, you're thinking: who else but New PHD would pull off

something like this, but no sniggering please).



If you go to the website, you will see Bradford & Bingley is turning

itself into an independent financial advisor. IFA status means it

doesn't sell you any of its own products but tries to find the best

pension, mortgage, insurance and so on for you (a bit like a media buyer

that is genuinely media neutral). Other banks, which aren't IFAs, try to

sell you their own products, which could mean they shoehorn you into

products that don't suit (like a media buyer which shoves you into TV

just because it needs to meet its commitments to certain broadcasters).

So IFA status means Bradford & Bingley wishes to position itself as a

bank that is a) totally unbiased and impartial, and b) puts the

customers' interests before their own.



This is dull stuff, and so New PHD's challenge was to find a proposition

that brought it alive. From there it is but a short step to The

Independent (unbiased impartiality) and a longer step to the

let's-give-all-the-readers-extra-editorial idea (thus satisfying the aim

of showing that the customer comes first).



At this point we introduce the Klein test. Would she approve of such a

strategy? Given that one of her main criticisms of advertising is the

insidious, intrusive and inexorable way in which it is taking over every

space and hitherto-protected corner of our lives, the answer is

undoubtedly yes. Here we have an execution that is minimal and, in that

it reduces the volume of ads and brings extra editorial, of genuine

consumer benefit.



The Klein test, however, works in reverse for advertisers. That which

she approves of is probably not going to work for them. However laudable

Bradford & Bingley's aims, I find it hard to believe a so-called

'reverse Pepsi' (remember its decision to turn The Mirror blue and buy

every site?) will have had any impact on the readers of the paper. So

subtle was the branding that, even if they'd noticed the substitution of

editorial for ads, few, if any readers, would have made the connection

with Bradford & Bingley. If anyone's a winner, it's the paper.



Dead cert for a Pencil? Media golds all round probably.



Will it work? Philanthropy and advertising don't mix.



What would the chairman's wife say? Why can't we do singing ads like the

Halifax?



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