Nationwide ads banned for ‘misleading customers’ over branch closures

After a series of complaints, including from rival Santander, the ASA ruled consumers may be led to believe the building society would not close branches in the long term.

A still from the Nationwide refreshBuilding society Nationwide has seen a series of its ads banned by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) after being accused of misleading customers.

First aired in October and November 2023, the TV, radio and press ads featured conversations between staff at the fictional A.N.Y Bank. Fronted by Dominic West and Sunil Patel, the TV ad showed a bank boss discussing branch closures and noting how different his bank is to Nationwide, which was keeping its branches open.

The campaign launched as part of Nationwide’s biggest rebrand in nearly four decades, which included new brand platform ‘A good way to bank’. Nationwide said at the time it was positioning itself as a “modern and confident challenger to the big banks”. 

However, the adverts generated 281 complaints to the ASA, including from rival Santander, questioning whether the ads were misleading because Nationwide had in fact closed a number of branches and switched to reduced trading hours in others.

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Nationwide responded to the ASA by saying that as a mutual society it was owned by its members – who were all existing customers – and that the ad was aimed at them.

The building society referred to a Branch Promise, launched in 2019, that it would not leave a town or city without a Nationwide. This promise was strengthened in 2023 with a pledge not to close any branch until at least 2026. The brand told the ASA that in 85 UK towns it runs the only remaining bank branch.

Two tables were presented by Nationwide, showing the percentage of bank estates closed between 2013 and 2023. Of the 10 institutions listed, Nationwide had closed the smallest percentage of its estate and had the most surviving branches.

The document listed 20 branches that had closed over the 18 months prior to the launch of the ad campaign, including two branches closed during 2023. Nationwide also provided details of a trial shift to reduce opening hours in 88 branches.

‘Long-term commitment’

The watchdog decided, however, that the claims in the ads could be interpreted by consumers to mean Nationwide had taken a decision to keep branches open for the benefit of customers and this included local branches.

The ASA also ruled the ads could appeal to potential new customers, as well as members who already held accounts. Customers considering a move to Nationwide, the watchdog suggested, might consider promises about branches remaining open to be a long-term commitment.

The TV and press ads did include the qualification that the Branch Promise would be in place until 2026, but the ASA felt these messages could have been missed because of the way the creative was presented.

While the watchdog noted that, compared to other institutions, Nationwide had closed the smallest proportion of its estate, it had still closed 20% – or 152 – of its branches.

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The ASA concluded that as it considered consumers would understand from the ads that Nationwide would not be closing branches in the long-term and had not recently closed branches, the ads were misleading.

The adverts may not be shown again in their current form and Nationwide was told not to mislead in relation to the closure of its branches.

Speaking to Marketing Week at the launch of the rebrand, Nationwide director of brands, marketing and experience Richard Warren described the redesign as a reflection of the building society’s new purpose to make banking fairer and more rewarding. 

The rebrand project spanned not only advertising, but a new look app, website and visual identity, complete with a streamlined logo.

In October, the relaunch campaign was rated as one of the top-performing ads for effectiveness, according to effectiveness firm System1, as well as one the best-performing banking ads the firm had tested, coming in the top 10%.