Opinion: Mills on ... Cheltenham & Gloucester

There's a small rearrangement of the editorial furniture on the page this week. Our esteemed editor is on holiday, the lovely Ms Beale steps up to the column above to fill in for her and, like a faithful old retainer, I am brought back from pasture to fill in below.

Talking of faithful old retainers, Cheltenham & Gloucester has finally put to sleep an ad of eight years' standing, the one in which the little diver boy swims around the Red Sea while monks, as tends to be their wont, chant: "Adiemus, adiemus tra la la." Eight years! In advertising terms that's almost pre-historic. While we're talking pre-history, nostalgia buffs might like to know that the ad was made by K Advertising (the former KHBB), a shortlived entity subsequently subsumed into Saatchi & Saatchi, where C&G has stayed as if forgotten - a bit like K, in fact.

Anyway, thank Christ the little diver boy is gone. In all the times I saw it, including as recently as last month, I never fully grasped what it was about and I never thought I might move my massive mortgage to C&G.

And as for the music ... well, it now sounds as dated as skiffle.

How is it, you might wonder, that an institution such as C&G can keep running the same ad while its rivals - Halifax, Nationwide, Abbey, Northern Rock, Bradford & Bingley - have all reinvented themselves and refreshed their advertising at least once. The charitable answer is that C&G is not to be swayed by the vicissitudes of financial fashion. Yeah, right.

Smugness or complacency might be a more plausible explanation. Or, more chillingly, maybe advertising doesn't matter very much to C&G.

Actually, C&G did try to move the campaign on in 1997. A big-budget TV epic featured an Eskimo boy who, fleet of foot, helps an abominable snowman escape a bunch of marauding hunters. No wonder C&G returned to diver boy.

But even stodgy institutions such as C&G occasionally recognise they have to move with the times. Besides, by its own admission this week, C&G now finds its share of the mortgage market sliding backwards. So out goes the previous message - nimble, efficient, etc - and in comes a new one: flexibility.

To demonstrate this not-very-original thought, we are presented with a series of vignettes, each featuring an individual seeking something different from their mortgage. A camper whose tent blows away has a fixed mortgage (geddit).

A black barrister (how PC) wants no legal charges. A woman in a low-cut, slinky evening dress wants hers "incredibly low". A boxer - guess what - has one that "fits like a glove". A firefighter (another woman, another PC gesture) wants one that gets her on to "the first rung of the ladder".

You get the idea.

Frankly, starting with the lame puns, it's all very tedious. But there's two things I don't like. First, it's the lazy use of stereotypes that are supposed to suggest: "Gosh, C&G really is an institution that speaks to me, the individual." Like hell they do. This is yet another attempt to cover up a wider industry failing, which is the depersonalisation of personal finance. Far from saying, as the endline puts it, that C&G builds its mortgages around the individual, the real message is: "We may not know you, but we know your type, and according to our quant research, providing you meet the terms of our computerised credit-scoring system, you fall into this mortgage category." Rather chilling.

Complaint number two is that this is a generic. It's a typical category ad. Not only could you fit any mortgage provider or bank into the ad, but it could also accommodate an insurer, a mobile phone company, Uncle Tom Cobbley and all. Maybe diver boy wasn't so bad after all.

Dead cert for a Pencil? Not even best of category. Rivals show much more


File under ... G/B; generic/boring.

What would the chairman's wife say? "Doesn't compare to Howard, does


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