Radically different

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The Nationwide building society in the UK, is not only the largest in the world, but it remains a ‘mutual’ which means it is owned by its members. This has a number of consequences for advertising, as Nationwide’s Head of Brand Marketing Alastair Pegg explains, “we don’t have the volume of money, we are outspent by our competitors by a ratio of probably 5:1. We have to be careful to use our money wisely in order to get noticed and get recognition, the use of comedy is a good way of doing that.”

Nationwide advertising is a case study in using humour to get more ‘bang-for-your-buck.’ In 1989 they used two well-known UK comedians Mel Smith and Griff Rhys Jones to reprise a talking-heads format they had successfully created for their TV show.

More recently, they used another comedian, Mark Benton, in an advert mocking the marketing methods of banks and building societies. “Part of that,” explains Pegg, “is to cut through and deliver our message in an entertaining way.”

“We never forget whose money it is, it's our members' money.” Alistair Pegg, Nationwide

Their current campaign uses iconic characters from the TV series Little Britain, which over the last decade became a much loved, and talked-about programme from playgrounds to ‘water-coolers’. Its sometimes risqué humour was wrapped in an eccentricity that has a deep and enduring appeal for the British public. The three initial TV adverts highlight: the fact they are a mutual; a new product offering; and their sponsorship of the England football team, at a moment when football had a huge profile during the 2010 World Cup.

 

The advertising has taken account of the post-crunch world of their members and is focussing on what this means for a mutual building society owned by savers and borrowers.

It’s a communication that is unpacking both the spirit of what it is to be a mutual and what Nationwide believe are the practical benefits of this, “Our previous communication,” says Alastair Pegg, “has been about our competitors, how we are different to our competitors. Now we are trying to talk a bit more about us.

During the credit crunch we have all suffered where money was tight, and things had to be carefully considered. We went back to our roots of being a very safe and dependable place for your money, and we never forget whose money it is; it’s our members’ money.”

Now, says Pegg, they are starting to talk more about what Nationwide do and what they stand for as an organisation. Rather than talk about what others do and don’t do, they are communicating the idea that “we have a different approach, due to our mutual status, but also due to our approach to products, because that mutual status leads us to make decisions in a different way.”

The four core elements of the brand explains Pegg are being mutual, having a really strong service ethic, trying to do the right thing by customers, and a commitment to long-term value. The latter, they would argue, differentiates them from publicly-listed companies.

As a TV series Little Britain celebrates diversity and the campaign expresses the idea that Nationwide encapsulates that diversity, and provides a quality and listening service no matter what.

The ads show, says Pegg, that “we deal with all sorts of people and types and everything all day, and people in our branches are very adept at dealing with that and try and find good solutions to peoples’ problems when they come to see us.”

The TV print and brochure work have specific messages but ultimately it is about showcasing difference as a practical value that delivers safe, secure, long term investments.

The Summary

In Nationwide’s case, getting back to their roots didn’t mean looking at heritage or history. It meant going back to the inherent values enabling them to celebrate the diversity of their customers and using that idea of diversity to highlight issues of service.

Though the campaign was well-researched quantitatively and qualitatively, there was some risk involved because the characters are well-loved but also very, very, different. Making the case for difference means using imagery that cuts through and highlights uniqueness. The payoff is worth it if it demonstrably links to practical benefits.

The Takeout

Nationwide advertising is a case study in using humour to get more ‘bang-for-your-buck’. Their advertising has taken account of the post-crunch world of their members and is focussing on what this means for a mutual building society owned by savers and borrowers.

The campaign expresses the idea that Nationwide encapsulates that diversity, and provides a quality and listening service no matter what.

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