TBWA 50m NatWest win sparks Virgin Direct pitch

Virgin Direct is reviewing its 15m advertising account after its agency TBWA GGT Simons Palmer won the 50m NatWest retail and banking account last week.

Jo Barnett, head of advertising at Virgin One, the phone bank of Virgin Direct, claims TBWA did not inform Virgin Direct that it was pitching for the NatWest account.

TBWA Simons Palmer handled the 2m press launch of the Virgin One phone bank in April, before merging with BDDP GGT in May.

Virgin Direct is well-known for its advertising campaigns which criticise traditional financial services companies like NatWest.

Barnett says: “I think the win has been badly managed. It should have sorted it out with us before going public with NatWest.

Virgin Direct will talk to two other agencies on Wednesday. TBWA will be given one last chance to put its case today (Wednesday).

NatWest is also discussing the client conflict with TBWA with insurance giant Axa, which spent 8m on a branding campaign in April, and life assurance company Equitable Life, which spends 4.6m a year on advertising (ACNielsen-MEAL). Axa was a TBWA Simons Palmer client and Equitable Life was a GGT client.

Ian Schoolar, head of brand communications at NatWest, says he has concerns about the possible conflicts but does not see Goldfish – the credit card run by Centrica – as one.

Schoolar adds: “We have given it the account subject to some contractual issues, including a discussion about exclusivity. In an ideal world the agency would work for NatWest exclusively but it is difficult in the cluttered area of financial services.”

Nigel Snell, head of corporate affairs at Axa, says: “It is not an issue. We have had discussions and it is business as usual.”

Equitable Life was unavailable for comment.

NatWest is axing the Link roster of agencies, which includes Bartle Bogle Hegarty and Ammirati Puris Lintas, to pool its entire through-the-line account into TBWA and GGT Direct over the next six months. Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe and M&C Saatchi also pitched for the account.

Schoolar says the Canning family TV campaign, created by BBH, will be dropped and a new branding strategy developed to encompass NatWest’s seven business units. TBWA claims the account is worth 60m to 80m but 50m is closer to reality, according to Schoolar.

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