CLOSE-UP: ADVERTISER OF THE WEEK/NATIONWIDE - Building society proves to be a tough nut to crack. Bartle Bogle Hegarty is the latest agency to be axed by Nationwide

’Nationwide seeks shop after BBH rift’; ’Leagas Delaney ditches Nationwide again’; ’Nationwide axes TV ads in shift to sponsorship’.

’Nationwide seeks shop after BBH rift’; ’Leagas Delaney ditches

Nationwide again’; ’Nationwide axes TV ads in shift to sponsorship’.

These headlines make up an average year in the Nationwide press cuttings

folder. For a company that has been around since 1848 and prides itself

on retaining a loyal customer base, the Nationwide Building Society has

failed to construct a similarly stable relationship with an advertising


Last week’s split with Bartle Bogle Hegarty was ascribed to ’creative

differences’. Despite coming up with 63 scripts, BBH could not satisfy

the Nationwide’s chief executive, Brian Davis, nor its marketing

director, Steve Clode. That’s an awful lot of disagreements in just nine

months - the time that has elapsed since BBH beat Grey and D’Arcy to win

the pounds 12 million account.

The Nationwide is the largest building society in the world and it is

committed to staying mutual - a position that allows it to reinvest for

the benefit of its members rather than shareholders. As an advertising

proposition, this may not be cutting edge but it is distinct and


This circumstance, coupled with a pounds 12 million advertising budget

and competition in the financial services market, suggests that the

Nationwide would be a committed client.

But it seems to find it difficult to settle on a clear vision for its

brand, let alone trust an advertising agency to invent and execute a

solution on its behalf. ’Inconsistent’ is the charge levelled at the

Nationwide by every agency that has come into contact with it.

The Nationwide’s most famous work is the ’Don from Doncaster’ stop-frame

work, created by Leagas Delaney in 1992 and revived - with new

executions - in 1998.

BBH’s work, which showed people being massaged to demonstrate the peace

of mind that comes with being a member of the Nationwide, has been

criticised by rivals for being too bland.

’People take money seriously,’ an agency boss says. ’The BBH campaign

tries to disguise the money part of the equation, but it’s irrelevant.

People have open, adult relationships about money.’

The campaign was a compromise that evidently failed to solve anything in

the long term. A BBH insider says: ’If you ask people what they want out

of a financial services company, it always comes down to peace of mind.

It’s a universal truth that we could agree on, but it’s not exactly


And it’s nothing like the idea that BBH pitched with. ’We presented a

strategic view about the way to go forward, but when we won the business

and created work around that strategy, we were told ’no, that’s not what

we had in mind’.’

The agency struggled on but never seemed to get to the bottom of what

Davis had in mind. The chief executive is described as an ’eccentric

academic’ who is as honest and moral as his dedication to mutuality

would suggest.

As a consequence, he is particularly concerned not to offend anyone with

his advertising, so that BBH uncharacteristically ended up taking what

one insider describes as ’the line of least resistance’.

Bruce Crouch, now a partner of Soul, was closely involved with the

Nationwide client when he was the creative director at BBH. He suggests

that the Nationwide is ’fed up with conventional agency relationships’,

adding that: ’We could never get to the overall brand strategy.

Eventually a little idea we had for one product became the whole


The Nationwide has worn down a succession of agencies with its failure

to commit. Leagas Delaney won the business from D’Arcy Masius Benton &

Bowles in 1991 and split with the Nationwide in 1994 when the account

moved to GGT. In January 1997, Nationwide left GGT with the words: ’We

have reviewed our future requirements and we believe it is no longer

necessary for us to retain an agency with a full-service


The following month Emery McLaven Orr, an agency based in the

Nationwide’s home town of Swindon, was given the business. The Leagas

Delaney relationship was revived in October 1997 but survived just over

a year - until January 1999.

In February 1999, the Nationwide, which sponsors the England football

team, announced that it was pulling the plug on television advertising

because it believed that sports sponsorship is more effective. By June

that year, advertising was back on the agenda with the appointment of


Predictably, there has been some dreadful advertising for the brand.

Leagas Delaney kicked off with two ’dream’ ads in the late 80s. One

charted the life of a rather pretentious woman who went to Africa

shortly before ’I became, us, became a family.’ The other dealt with an

equally pretentious father’s wishes for his son. GGT’s infamous first

effort was made by Nationwide staff members.

This time round, the Nationwide is non-committal about whether or not it

will draw up a pitchlist. Crouch says: ’It’s an odd conundrum. The

Nationwide is so successful that it doesn’t need a big advertising


Bruce Haines, the chief executive of the Leagas Delaney Group,

disagrees: ’The Nationwide would be missing a trick if it didn’t

advertise. It has defined and given substance to the concept of

mutuality. With other building societies demutualising, it has a

distinctive position in the market.’

The Nationwide is the UK’s fourth largest mortgage lender and ninth

largest retail bank. It is credited with changing the face of retail

banking in 1987 when it introduced the first full service current

account to pay interest. It also claims to be the first building society

to launch PC home banking (1995).

While the advertising industry is wondering why the Nationwide keeps

reviewing its account, the building society is unlikely to be asking the

same question.

’It’s hard for us to understand, but the Nationwide doesn’t have much

respect for advertising - it’s not central to the business,’ an agency

chief says. ’Brian Davis certainly won’t worry about being on his fifth

agency in five years.’