Woolies appears to have bitten the bullet with the star of its ads, Paul Kay, calling himself the unmentionable for participating in Woolworths' campaign, but Lloyds TSB seems to have been less forgiving with John Thompson, the star of its last campaign.
Thompson, and the leggy Joely Richardson, have been replaced with a herd of even more leggy black horses. Agency and client deserve credit for reintroducing the black horse: it is one of the most compelling branding devices around. It lends Lloyds the right tone of old-fashioned trustworthiness and the bank was mad to drop it in the first place.
The new spot is a gripping piece of film, filled with tension and ably served by an emotive soundtrack (much better than the goody-goody Corrs - let's hope they've gone for good). Like many of the best ads today, the spot is interesting and entertaining - a fair exchange for having your television viewing interrupted by some commercial messages.
Chris Palmer's direction is engaging and, as the tension mounts, you find yourself drawn into this short film showing beautiful black horses purposefully galloping towards something and you look forward to discovering what.
It transpires that Piccadilly Circus is their destination. There's no real reason offered for this, but just as you begin to notice your disappointment a generous "3.2%" flashes up on your screen and you're hooked. After all, that kind of interest rate has become the stuff of legend, yet Lloyds is offering it on a current account. Or is it?
"Read the small print" is the warning message that needs to be shouted at viewers of this spot. You can collect 3.2 per cent interest, but only if you have more than £2,000 coming into your current account each month.
There's another caveat: the rate reverts to 0.1 per cent for sums above £5,000 - gee thanks.
If you do qualify, however, you'll have to be internet savvy, as another condition is that you use Lloyds' internet banking service at least six times over three months. I like the thinking: encouraging consumers online will reduce costs for Lloyds, which is fair enough if it secures you the magical 3.2 per cent.
However, it's still a sneaky little spot. The galloping stallions converging on Piccadilly Circus is an oblique reference to the high street. Lloyds is reinforcing its high-street-with-an-upmarket-twist-black-horse positioning. The interest rate trumps that of its high-street rivals including Halifax (3 per cent if you have £1,000 coming in per month). But sneakiness is never a very wise strategy, in this case for two reasons.
First, the bank is claiming to be mass market while demanding a salary in excess of £35,000: a confusing offer in branding terms, and one that will exclude most of the UK population.
Second, and more dangerously, it tinkers with consumers' trust. If people see the ad and have their expectations built up to a 3.2 per cent crescendo, they are going to have their financial hopes dashed when they discover that they don't earn enough to qualify. From then on, they will associate Lloyds with shallow and irrelevant offers - definitely not the objective of this beautifully crafted and no doubt expensive film.
- Dominic Mills is away.
Dead cert for a Pencil? Direction's pretty good.
File under ... M for misleading.
What would the chairman's wife say? "I really do love all those horses."