Financial services viewpoint

So the ad manager of Britain’s biggest life company has a chance to review the ads for Britain’s biggest building society. This ought to be a cause for mirth and the opportunity to savage a close competitor.

Unfortunately, the results are terrific and I also like the ads, so I’m going to have to be polite. I’ve spent the past five years listening to consumer research groups enthuse about the Halifax ads when I wanted them to talk about my ads. The consistency of its campaign ensures that its awareness continues, whether the ads are on air or not.

There have been five “people” ads but my favourites are the House and Wedding cake – maybe because they were refreshingly new but also because they are about Halifax’s core territory, whereas analogies with cheques and clocks are more abstract.

The tracking results for the main campaign are a classic example of sticking with an idea and watching each ad work cumulatively – something the whole industry could benefit from relearning, though that presupposes an effective idea to build from in the first place.

It would be easy to criticise the campaign for being led by an executional device, rather than a big idea, but that would misunderstand the power of the first two ads. The device was good because it represented size and scale with a classless approachability – exactly right for Halifax. The first ads were also well made and rewarded repeat viewing, a key factor for big brand ads.

The posters seem more awkward, but their awareness and correct attribution scores are higher than for any other building society poster campaign.

The building society sector has generally been better at “big ideas” than life companies, perhaps as their spend is more consistent and spans a longer time. Recently, however, things seem to have gone a little off the boil. As in many other sectors we are seeing the triumph of smart-ass visuals over clear communication and a series of one-off scripts in place of corporate brand initiatives. I believe the sector and its companies are the poorer for this and the ad recall figures bear this out.

The Halifax ads are the kind many big financial institutions should be running if they want to reassure consumers and protect their brand values. It is a shame its spend has become more press-oriented of late. It would be good to see the core values transferred to tactical messages for greater synergy and more through-the-line pull. Then again, maybe I’m relieved it hasn’t or my research groups really would be hell.