Opinion: Newland on ... NatWest

I opened my first bank account in the mid- to late 80s. It was at Lloyds (my parents had accounts there). Since then I have suffered a myriad of frustrations - too many to mention - that all boil down to the bank forgetting that I am a customer. I now bank with ... Lloyds.

A feeling that no high-street bank is better than another - better the devil you know - combined with an irrational fear of boring paperwork tends to prevent banking customers switching from one company to another.

This is why targeting young people is so important for banks. You can lock them in for life. NatWest believes this so strongly that it has commissioned M&C Saatchi to create an ad specifically for students, which will run in cinemas only.

Now, advertising to students is no easy matter - unless, perhaps, you are selling lager. They are cynical, over-confident and aware of what's cool and what's not. M&C Saatchi has chosen this characteristic as the basis of its strategy for this ad.

It casts Average Joe student walking along the road. His story is interspersed with scenes of grey-suited, geeky bank managers trying to be cool. One tries to moon walk but declares "I can't really do it because of the static".

Another grabs his crotch, rapper style, but it's because he needs the loo. They talk about mashing up ripping sounds, and so on.

They are trying to talk to young people in their own language but end up demonstrating their complete lack of understanding for young people in the process. This is epitomised in their offering of a free CD to students.

Cut back to Average Joe student, who is much happier - and more than a little smug - because his bank, NatWest, is offering students something big and useful: a Young Person's Railcard, valid for five years and worth £100.

This is a brilliant offer. Young Person's Railcards are the de rigeur accessory for any student. So is anything free. I remember finding the offers to tempt me to banks as a student laughable and cheap: a free alarm clock or £10 credit in your new account.

A quick glance at rival offers reveals a similar kind of stingyness still prevailing. Barclays is giving away £20 vouchers for Waterstones or HMV, while Lloyds TSB promises 10 per cent off at Blackwell's online bookstore. HSBC, however, is offering the same £100 Young Person's Railcard.

NatWest's campaign, for some time now, has been based on highlighting the shortcomings of its rivals on the high street. It uses wonderful rueful music to convey incredulity at the crapness of other banks. In this instance, it's a little hypocritical because HSBC has the same offer, but not many people outside of HSBC's marketing department will notice that.

I suspect NatWest's offer will really appeal to students, and succeed in persuading them to open accounts with it. However, this is despite, rather than because of, the commercial.

It's responding to the insight that young people feel like companies don't know how to talk to them, don't understand their needs. It's conjuring up the cringey feeling you suffer when watching your dad on the dance floor. The trouble is, the all-too ham-fisted visualisation of this insight becomes another example of the kind of situation it is trying to parody.

Young people, especially cinema-goers, are willing and able to understand much more sophisticated messages than this one. The spot lacks the kind of subtlety that could have made it genuinely talk student.

Dead cert for a Pencil? Not even at the Student Awards.

File under ... P for patronising.

What would the chairman's wife say? "Now that's a good offer."