First Direct under fire over banner ads trial

First Direct has been accused of “manipulative and unscrupulous” behaviour by a small website, which gave it free advertising for two years.

Camdentown.co.uk is a local information website run on a semi-professional basis by a small team. Founder Tien Bryan claims that ads for the telephone bank have been viewed by 3,000 to 4,000 unique users each week since October 1999, when he first approached First Direct with the offer of a free trial.

But, when Bryan submitted a £300 invoice to First Direct this week – representing payment for three months in arrears and three months in advance – the bank refused to pay. It claims the ads had not produced sufficient click-through rates.

However, Bryan says he had warned First Direct not to expect such tangible results. “It was more about brand advertising,” he told Marketing Week.

First Direct spokesman Nick Bowyer maintains there are “no measurable results” from the campaign, adding that such trial periods are “an accepted practice that has applied to all sorts of media since marketing began.” He also argues that “this kind of site probably gains a lot more than we do by having the prestige of First Direct’s name on the site.”

But Bryan counters: “First Direct may be legally within its rights [not to pay], and we’re hardly in a position to take it to court. But I think what it is doing is very dubious.”

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