CAMPAIGN DIRECT: ISSUE NATWEST - Virtual village where TBWA made NatWest funky. TBWA had to revitalise the bank’s pounds 80m marketing strategy across all media, Karen Yates explains

Every day at four o’clock, Christine Jones, one of the four ’managing agents’ of the NatWest village, quits her office and heads for the squashy sofas and low lights of the so-called soft room. It’s surgery hour, the time devoted to making sure all who work on Britain’s most complex account have instant access to its lead creatives.

Every day at four o’clock, Christine Jones, one of the four

’managing agents’ of the NatWest village, quits her office and heads for

the squashy sofas and low lights of the so-called soft room. It’s

surgery hour, the time devoted to making sure all who work on Britain’s

most complex account have instant access to its lead creatives.

Surgery hour is one of the lessons Jones has learned in the 12 months

since TBWA GGT Simons Palmer and GGT Direct decided to pool resources to

set up TBWA GGT Communications and its NatWest arm, known in short as

’the village’. Designed as an agency-within-an-agency to shield the

newly acquired NatWest account from conflicting business, it also aimed

to weave above-the-line and below-the-line as they had never been woven


It was an ambitious project. Firstly, because of its sheer size - the

account is worth as much as pounds 80 million a year and as many as 20

new briefs can arrive in any one week. But also because of its

complexity - NatWest had woken up in the late 90s to find that it was a

large, successful financial group with state-of-the-art systems and the

respect of the City, but had lost contact with its public. This may have

been partly due to the fact that NatWest had divided into seven separate

businesses. Each, by then, was concentrating on a particular area, like

retail banking or credit cards, and each was talking to its customers in

its own particular way.

What NatWest needed was to develop a coherent personality for the brand

which could run across all seven areas.

To complicate matters further, NatWest wanted its advertising to be

flexible enough to talk to some target groups, like students, about

several businesses at once. And if that wasn’t enough, each idea also

had to work right through from TV commercials to investment brochures. A

big task.

So last year, the bank decided to wrest its advertising out of a

plethora of agencies and into one giant account with a single agency -

the newly formed TBWA GGT Communications. The NatWest village has since

then created only three TV commercials, each very different from the

others. Could this really herald the unity of style that NatWest has

been seeking?

The first TV commercial to break showed a series of animated characters

in a dizzying spin across London which, in contrast, is filmed in

ordinary black and white. The ad was essentially designed to remind

customers of NatWest’s large number of ATMs, but Jones says it also

introduces a style - a mix of graphics and film - created especially for

younger audiences.

Any of the businesses, be it the retail group talking about its ATMs or

a drive to raise card ownership by the credit card division, can use

this style if it wants to appeal to younger customers.

Another style has been created for small businesses. Still in graphics,

this one is redolent of airline safety cards, a look which carries right

through from the TV commercial to brochures and in-branch posters. Just

like the youth-themed ads, any of the businesses can pick up this style

if they wish to target small businesses.

The third new look breaking this summer was developed for NatWest’s

insurance products. Like the others, it uses graphics, this time with a

grid-effect background. The TV commercial features a white angel,

representing the protective nature of NatWest insurance, while other

icons appear, each representing a different type of insurance. Thus an

accident-prone pink elephant always appears in ads or literature for

home insurance, while a kangaroo denotes travel insurance, and the joke

victim of car accidents - a hedgehog - makes its way into all road

insurance promotions.

Jones says the village is creating a new style for each business or

target audience, using illustrations and cartoons as a general form, but

developing a different look for each. This, she says, allows the bank to

talk to each of its customers very differently, yet still retain the

same feel.

’What we said to our creatives was that they could pull out all those

great illustrations that have been hidden around their desks for months

because no client was brave enough to use them,’ Jones explains.

The only proviso is that the style should be fresh, modern and

energetic, she adds. Plus each has to incorporate NatWest’s corporate

colours of black and white for end frames, or in the copy on print

executions and so on. No fancy art direction; often no company name and

absolutely no slogan.

Penny Reid, another managing agent of the village, says recognition of

NatWest’s logo is so strong that in some cases it doesn’t need its name,

just as the swoosh seldom needs Nike. As for the absence of a slogan,

research showed that whatever fresh, energetic graphics did to dispel

the fusty image of financial institutions was instantly undone by using

a naff slogan.

’The public liked the illustrations very much, but as soon as we put a

slogan under it, we lost them. It made the information sound hollow and

false,’ Reid explains.

Right from the start, Jones, Reid and the village’s two other managing

agents, Peter Jones and Jim Thornton, agreed that no creatives besides

Thornton and Jones would be permanently assigned to NatWest. This would

prevent too much pigeon-holing of thought. Instead, when a brief comes

in it is assigned to whichever teams are free, either from GGT Direct or


This means that sometimes only one or two pairs may be working on

NatWest, while at other times, for example, during the early days, all

of the teams from both agencies were briefed on work for NatWest.

After a period of gestation, usually two weeks, the teams meet with

others assigned to the project to discuss ideas. The best ones are taken

and developed by the pair who originally came up with the idea, whether

they’re from below the line or above it. Thus, in theory, a TV ad could

come from a team who’d done little else but leaflets and, of course,

vice versa.

Jones concedes there have been a lot of hard lessons learned along the

way, as the village has settled into the best method of operation. One

is that each project needs its own ’champion’ to see a campaign through

from signing off radio ads to printing beer mats, because DM and

above-the-line are used to such different lead times. Another is that,

since Jones and Thornton are the only permanent creatives, and sign off

every piece of work, they need a daily contact point with everyone


And so it is that surgery hours have become a necessary part of life for

Jones and Thornton. A time in which creatives can slip along and discuss

graphics styles, or account people thrash out a timing issue.

But has it worked? Well, 12 months on, NatWest’s seven different

divisions have a single point of reference for all advertising or

promotional work.

TBWA and GGT Direct claim the village has been a big success, and the

public has some of the most innovative financial advertising around -

from their TVs to their front doormats.

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