’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
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
’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.’