OPINION: Mills on ... ING Direct

Do you remember the flying Zurich pigs? 'Course you do. This time a year ago the pigs were the talk of the town off the back of a Babe-inspired commercial for a new type of direct banking and the promise of deposit interest rates unmatched by any other institution.

"Pigs might fly," went the slogan, as if to emphasise that this was an offer too good to be true. How prescient was that? By September, Zurich was forced to stop taking new business and today the pigs are bacon. All of which goes to show that, when it comes to money, if someone promises you that an offer is too good to be true, then it is.

It's a mistake that, in the competitive world of savings, many financial institutions make. Egg, although it is now beyond those early teething problems, almost fell into the same trap.

And now we have a new entrant into the same business, ING Direct, whose launch campaign through Vallance Carruthers Coleman Priest broke ten days ago. It too offers a pretty amazing deal, 4.3 per cent, which my friend in the City, Phil Yerboots, tells me is about as good as it gets.

Someone memorably described VCCP's latest O2 film, the gorgeous "Bubble Road", as Rooney Carruthers' wet dream: the girl, the open-top car, the palm trees and the sunshine. Few people do that sort of stuff better than Rooney, and every time I see the film I think to myself: "I don't know what they're selling, but I want some of it." Rooney, however, is no one-trick pony.

There's a massive gap between the O2 work and the launch campaign for ING Direct (and a massive difference in the budget too, I'm sure), but although the latter is less visually striking it is arguably more pertinent.

The ads are clean, simple and to the point - which is no coincidence, since that is exactly how ING Direct is positioning itself: as a no-frills operation, where what you see is what you get. In other words one rate for all, whether you deposit £1 or £100,000, no withdrawal restraints, no catches, no small print and no nasty telesales leeches trying to "upsell" you into insurance or a credit card.

The ads are thus similarly gimmick-free. They feature a variety of people doing ordinary things: messing around in the park; a mum putting her daughter on the swings; a woman collecting a supermarket trolley; a couple exiting a taxi. They are all in black and white, except that almost every shot also features a lifebelt icon, which is in colour and features variously as a tyre, a shop sign or a swing seat. In the centre of the lifebelt we see the interest rate. Oh, and there's an irritatingly catchy piece of lounge music, which sounds like something your local vicar would play when he wants to come over all cool.

You don't have to be a genius to figure out that the lifebelt works on several levels: as a visual icon, a bit like Direct Line's red phone; as a device to frame and highlight the interest rate and as a visual metaphor to suggest reassurance and safety - perhaps a good idea since the ads offer few clues as to who or what ING is, apart from the fact that it's Dutch and it's the world's largest savings bank (which it is - I checked).

There's one other particular point worth drawing attention to. ING Direct's online rivals - First Direct, Egg, Cahoot, Intelligent Finance - launched with ads that were self-consciously wacky, as if to say: "Look at us, we're different." The ING Direct ads are, by contrast, resolutely - proudly, even - mainstream. And it does the job for me, if not for Bruce Crouch on page 26.

Dead cert for a Pencil? Too mainstream.

File under ... B for bankable.

What would the chairman's wife say? "For sure, beats sticking it in the

FTSE, or under the mattress."