This is a gripping love story, one that runs on the lines of When
Harry Met Sally, starring Leagas Delaney as Sally and the Nationwide
Building Society as the mercurial Harry.
For a while, things between Leagas Delaney and Nationwide appeared rosy.
Then, out of the blue, and realising they could not be friends
afterwards, relations were sub-zero for a few years.
But now Leagas Delaney and Nationwide have had a tearful reunion,
seamlessly picking up where they left off with their favourite campaign
- the stop-frame ads - as if it had been a mere trial separation all
In October 1986, Leagas Delaney was handed the task of launching the
Nationwide Anglia’s FlexAccount, snatching the job from D’Arcy MacManus
Masius (now DMB&B), the society’s main agency. The debut featured
befuddled punters coming a cropper in the red tape that knotted up so
many traditional banks.
Then, in 1989, the advertising changed, using the talking heads of Mel
Smith and Griff Rhys Jones for a brand-building campaign, with debatable
success, as in November 1990 Nationwide Anglia changed its name to
Nationwide amid customer confusion over corporate identity.
At this point, Leagas Delaney released the first of its two ’dreams’
ads, complete with atmospheric photography and epic voiceovers. One
charted the life of a woman who went to ’Aarfricah’ shortly before ’I
became usss, became a faarmily’. The second was a epistle from a father
to his globetrotting son. In a fit of generosity, Nationwide nodded its
head, pretended to understand, and centralised the business into Leagas
Delaney, after a winner-takes-all battle with DMB&B.
Leagas Delaney exuded confidence. ’We feel we’ve claimed the emotional
side of financial advertising for ourselves,’ Tim Delaney, the creative
director, said at the time. However, Sir Colin Corness, the Nationwide
chairman, confessed the work was not to his taste at a heated discussion
at the society’s AGM.
So, in February 1992, Leagas Delaney revamped its strategy, also in line
with the recession, as it was acknowledged that no building society
could afford to continue to present itself as an open door to
unfulfilled ambition. This heralded the arrival of the stop-frame work
with its hillbilly tune, portraying quirky characters queuing at
counters or outside strange houses - which Leagas Delaney will be
reviving for its next wave of advertising.
But in January 1993, still unconfirmed factors - anecdotal evidence
cites management changes at Nationwide - led to Leagas Delaney resigning
the account and declining to repitch. GGT won the business.
GGT’s first work was made - infamously - by Nationwide staff. Doubts
were voiced almost immediately - a spokesperson said the company hadn’t
yet decided whether employees would be involved in making future
They weren’t, but the next two campaigns, one starring Nigel Planer, the
other featuring the Jimmy Cliff song, You Can Get It If You Really Want,
failed to make an impression. Nationwide decided a full-service agency
was no longer necessary. Emery McLaven Orr, a small Swindon agency which
was cynically credited as being ’just down the road’ from Nationwide’s
head office, was appointed to take care of project work in the press -
which it will continue to handle.
A GGT source said: ’Leagas Delaney should never have lost the account.
Its last campaign was seen as being too jocular but, ironically, that is
the one that Nationwide is eager to revive.’
The reunion, according to one source who was involved during the
break-up, was not so surprising, since the split was not as acrimonious
as it appeared. ’There were a few oddballs there, and petty politics got
in the way of the bigger picture,’ the source said.
Delaney is sanguine about his agency’s reappointment. ’It was practical
for us to go back to work,’ he explains. ’It’s normal to have a
rapprochement when people fall out; it just takes longer in business.
But it’s not always easy; agencies are not meant to do this sort of
Another observer puts the Nationwide’s marketing arrangements down to
indecision over mutuality. ’They were oscillating between standpoints,
so GGT didn’t know how to position them.’ Finally, in 1996, Nationwide
got off the fence and recycled pounds 250 million of profits to maintain
favourable interest rates.
The market was changing fast. Windfall-hungry investors led to the
demutualisation of most of the major building societies, leaving
companies such as the Halifax, the Woolwich and Northern Rock scrapping
with the big banks for market share. Nationwide’s mutual stance was to
Building societies hold around a quarter of all outstanding mortgages,
while banks - which include the converted building societies - have
around two-thirds. But September’s monthly figures, audited by the
Building Societies Association, showed that the new lending figure for
banks was pounds 600 million, whereas building societies achieved more
than pounds 900 million of business.
Interest rates are certainly favourable - both for borrowing and saving
- from building societies, as the onus is not on generating high
dividends for shareholders. But that is not the only reason why building
societies are an attractive option. A spokesperson from the BSA said:
’Building societies do have a reputation for being more friendly, and
the trend for demutualisation appears to be over now.’ Not taking any
chances on carpetbaggers, however, Nationwide is now insisting that new
investors sign over their shares to charity should the building society
Despite Nationwide’s niche status in the market, Delaney denies the
windfall climate will lead to any dramatic moves in its offer.
’The Nationwide has a clear strategy based around where it sits. You do
need to reflect your brand against others, but you have to allude to it,
rather than hit it on the head.’