The banks go for the jugular

It’s a tough challenge to connect with consumers emotionally in the dry (some might say boring) world of banking, but that doesn’t stop the high street banks from trying – and recently they have stepped up their efforts.

High street banks have long been trying to create an emotional bond with consumers via their advertising. We have seen mortgage ads emphasising the emotional benefits of gaining a home rather than the mortgage offer itself; and similarly in cash ISAs, a spotlight on the end pay-off of what you can buy with your savings.

But two new ads go much further, abandoning all mention of banking products, interest rates, service levels or customer needs. Nationwide and Lloyds are solely going after your heartstrings. Are you ready?

The Lloyds ad is a rather wonderful Black Beauty / War Horse mash-up, in an audacious attempt to show how important black horses can be in all of our lives. Meanwhile, Nationwide’s ad tells a touching scarf-left-on-bus story made more poignant by the scarf’s extensive history, having played a role a little like Black Beauty in fact, comforting its owner in times of need, being passed down from father to son, and patched up when it got injured jumping a fence. I mean, snagged on a style.

The common factor is that in neither of them is banking mentioned (although admittedly the scarf-rescuer in the Nationwide ad is, you’ve guessed it, a Nationwide staff member). They’ve gone straight for the jugular, right back to the basic need behind the brand: support. Both emphasise longevity, and both also exhibit many John-Lewis-like tropes: acoustic, folksy song, high production values, a lengthy story, and that completely shameless tugging, nay, yanking, on the heartstrings.

One more common factor is a near-identical strapline: By your side for 250 yearsfrom Lloyds, and On your side for generations from Nationwide. A subtle different in heritage, here, as Nationwide has a little touch of us-versus-the-world (drawing on their Proud to be different position as building society not bank); Lloyds sticking with a less complicated idea of just being there for you – a natural continuation of For the journey.

At least Nationwide put a staff member in their ads. Lloyds get a pass on this one because it’s their 250th anniversary and I guess they wanted to go high level. (Also, just to be clear, the black horse is a metaphor for the bank, so in some ways it’s in every frame. Assuming you are paying attention and are into subtext. This coming from someone who read the whole of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe aged eight and didn’t realise Aslan’s return was metaphor for the resurrection of Christ. Spoiler alert!)

Is this a good strategy? Arguably it is. Of course neither brand will abandon all mention of its offerings for too long; usually, product campaigns will run alongside ‘umbrella’ brand campaigns, and that’s where particular offerings, interest rates etc., will get plugged.

Most importantly, advertisers know the value of a good emotional connection in ads. Pete Pereira, an Incite comms expert, tells us that advertising that taps into the underlying emotional needs and values of the consumer has been a popular marcomms strategy for at least five years now. During this time, the advertising industry has demonstrated several times over that higher levels of emotional relevance tends to deliver a higher ROI for the brand – as long as that personal resonance has a credible connection to the brand and doesn’t feel forced or tacked-on. Brands which forge this link stand a much better chance of being selected from the crowd – especially when so much of the decision making process relies on Kahneman’s System 1 thinking.

In the banking industry, the challenge here is probably credibility. For my money, though, we are far enough away now from the banking crisis for consumers to feel that trust in their banks again, and thus buy into these types of messages. It will be interesting to see if the trend continues.