Advertising history repeating itself. Again and again and again.

When I started my copywriting career in the late Middle Ages, one of the accounts in my creative group was the Nationwide Building Society – then only recently restructured and rebranded from its former existence as the Co-operative Permanent Building Society. We produced mostly black-and-white press product ads. Classic two-thirds/one third-layout, the two-thirds being a pic of a nice-looking person or couple smiling at the camera and the one-third being the copy, typically with a headline saying: “We’re getting 6.5%* on our savings – and only thirty days notice of withdrawals required.”

As my colleagues around me toiled night and day to produce this stuff, in my own mind (filled as it was with images from wonderful commercials shot in that era by Alan Parker and Ridley Scott for CDP) I found myself wondering if I had in fact got a job in a creative department, or if there’d been some ghastly mistake.

But in fact, looking back, I had: and what I was getting was valuable exposure to an early example of the ultimate financial advertising archetype – pics of the customers and copy in which they pour exaggerated praise on the products. Since then, it’s been the formula for a hundred financial advertising campaigns, and I’m sure it’ll be the formula for many hundreds more.

Very occasionally (no, make that very, very occasionally) some good stuff is produced within the formula. I yield to no-one, for example, in my admiration for my own former agency Tangible’s work for the children’s savings plan Jump, which I think is simply the best financial print advertising of the last decade.

More often, the stuff is more serviceable than excellent. The current campaign for Northern Rock, produced by my own agency group, features some very good photography and a canny strapline, but still requires the people in the pics to say “I’m paying just 4.5% on my first-time-buyer’s mortgage.”

And most often, it’s frankly pretty terrible. The Co-operative Bank is currently running an outdoor campaign announcing the rebranding of the former Britannia Building Society branches, featuring dreary customer photographs that make our Nationwide pics from 35 years ago look like Mario Testino, and insultingly lazy headlines like: “Now you’ll find The Co-operative Bank is really up your street.”

Hey ho. What goes around comes around, and around, and around, and around, I suppose. They say there are only seven different plot archetypes for Hollywood films, and if so there can’t be more than three or four campaign archetypes for financial ad campaigns. I just wish that having chosen their archetype, advertisers would try a little harder to freshen up its appearance.

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