OPINION: Mills on ... the Halifax

Two things always make me nervous. One, agencies and clients who buy press ads trailing their latest TV commercial. The reality rarely matches the hype. Two, clients who make a big thing about putting their staff in ads. The Nationwide's memorable, but thankfully short-lived, experience with GGT in the mid-90s should serve as a warning to us all. When you combine the two, as the Halifax did for the launch between Christmas and New Year of its latest magnum opus, you get a sense of foreboding. 'You'll see why we're as proud of our products as we are of our staff,' says the Halifax in a double combo of seasonal yuckiness.

Two things always make me nervous. One, agencies and clients who buy press ads trailing their latest TV commercial. The reality rarely matches the hype. Two, clients who make a big thing about putting their staff in ads. The Nationwide's memorable, but thankfully short-lived, experience with GGT in the mid-90s should serve as a warning to us all. When you combine the two, as the Halifax did for the launch between Christmas and New Year of its latest magnum opus, you get a sense of foreboding. 'You'll see why we're as proud of our products as we are of our staff,' says the Halifax in a double combo of seasonal yuckiness.

Maybe I'm being unfair. Under Andrew Cracknell's direction at Bates between 1991 and 1994, the Halifax evolved a tradition of heavily choreographed human house spectaculars set to songs such as Our House and Moon River.

Beautifully shot and art directed, each was a mini Busby Berkeley-style epic.

The ads may not have been appointment TV, but they were tasteful, catchy and immensely likeable. With its new agency, Delaney Lund Knox Warren, the Halifax might argue that it is returning to its advertising roots, only in a more contemporary way. Thus the besuited Howard Brown, a customer service advisor at the Sheldon branch of the Halifax, straightens his tie, adjusts his owl-shape specs and makes his bid for Stars in Their Eyes. Yes, tonight Howard is Tom Jones with Sex Bomb.

Well, sort of. Nobody throws any knickers at the unsexy Howard, despite some boastful lyrics extolling his fabulous, er, package of services.

'Maybe I'm a banker who's completely obsessed,' he sings in a rich tone.

'Got a little something that's bound to impress. This current account pays a higher amount of extraordinary interest. Extra! Extra! I know you want more. I'll give you something extra when you walk through my door' - one banker's double entendre after another.

As he sings, Howard moves forward through various locations (corn circle, field of wheat, wood, river, shoreline) while everything else moves backwards.

If this sounds familiar, it is: a Cracknell ad for Tennents Pilsner used the same technique a few years ago. Quite what the point is, apart from giving us something to talk about, I don't know. Still, another talking point will be the first use in an ad of that 21st century cultural icon Billy Big Mouth Bass, the singing fish. And that's about it, except to say that this has already staked a strong claim for Cheesiest Ad of the Year in our next Campaign Book of Lists.

As for the business rationale and the timing, all is clear: attract new customers. Having demutualised in 1996, the Halifax now operates in a broader, more competitive market. To this end, it has a new super current account paying a very hefty rate of interest.

Come the new year, we all want to clean up our affairs, start afresh and so on. So what's more natural than changing bank account? This must be the case since at least half a dozen other banks (NatWest, Abbey National, Egg, Cahoot, etc) all have ads pushing the same idea. This being so, memorability is obviously important.

When it comes to the ad itself, the Campaign team is evenly divided between those who dislike it and those who loathe it. It's Busby Berkeley meets Shake 'n' Vac, only Shake 'n' Vac wins. It's the first turkey of the year.

So what, say I, a lonely voice of reason and kindness. It's fizzing with energy and joie de vivre. It's got scale. It's human. It's so silly it makes you laugh. Bring on the next. As for Howard, his 15 minutes await.



Dead cert for a Pencil? Sadly, D&AD doesn't reward cheese.

Will it work? Offering 4 per cent on your current account? Are you kidding? They'll be overwhelmed.

What would the chairman's wife say? Are you sure that Tom Jones is black?



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