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Natwest. Lloyds TSB. HSBC. Barclays. Ten years on from the financial crisis, Britain’s biggest commercial banks have weathered scandal and resisted disruption, and even with branch closures they are still a strong high street presence in the UK with a significant global footprint.

In the battle for share, all four companies – as well as rising challenger Santander – make heavy investment in TV advertising. It’s not their only platform these days but it’s vital for reach and to build – or rebuild – their brand.

System1 Ad Ratings tracks their ads, along with many other financial service providers. It reveals both the variety of approaches the big banks take to branding – but also that the five brands are locked closely together, with no true breakthrough campaigns.

We look at each bank’s highest-scoring ads of 2018.

HSBC: HSBC has actor Richard Ayoade as its brand spokesman in a series of ads, heavy on message but light on touch. Global focus has long been HSBC’s selling point, and this ad is no exception. In Brexit-era Britain its unabashed internationalism is bolder than it looks, but it’s hard to imagine this somewhat didactic message would score well without Ayoade’s quirky appeal. As it stands, though, it gets 3.2 Stars – which is the highest Rating any ad from the big banks has managed in 2018. HSBC’s problem is that Ayoade’s appeal is inconsistent – he has charisma but several of his ads struggle to get 2-Stars as the messages come thick and fast.

LLOYDS: Lloyds take a completely different approach. Their “Running Of The Horses” ad is pure brand, zero message – a high-budget, beautifully shot, scenic ad filmed in New Zealand and starring their black horse distinctive asset. It’s lovely, but not – it turns out – an emotional blockbuster, scoring a 3.1 Star Rating. That’s strong for the banking sector, but perhaps a little disappointing for such a glossy ad. Lloyds Bank have launched no other ads higher than 1-Star this year.

NATWEST: Mobile apps are a popular theme for banking ads – NatWest’s 3.0 Star Rating ad takes a gently humorous approach to showing the benefits of not having to go to a bank to get banking done. NatWest is the lightest TV advertiser of the Big Five and this ad is a typical approach for the sector in the UK – a product-centric message wrapped in a light coating of story. We know that 3-Stars is, broadly speaking, a ceiling for ads which blend emotional and rational modes, and NatWest is bumping against that ceiling here.

SANTANDER: Santander take the voiceover-plus –footage approach too, with some cleverly-spliced home movies underlying an entirely generic banking message. It’s not an especially Fluent ad – not much use of any distinctive assets, and there’s no real sense that the visual trickery links back to the brand at all. It ends up with low growth potential – a 2.7 Star Rating – but it’s still the strongest ad Santander has screened this year.

BARCLAYS: Finally, Barclays Bank also promote its mobile app with a 2.6 Star ad (low growth predicted) featuring the inner monologue of a woman who’s lost her debit card. The best of a few 2-Star ads the bank has scored this year, it’s – yet again – a message dressed up in a lightly humorous fashion.

Whether the banks are stressing global reach, availability, or the common touch in their branding, the style of UK banking ads doesn’t vary a lot – the sector tends to be dragged down by voiceovers and feature explanations. Only Lloyds is trying something different and more emotional to build its brand. Perhaps next time, with a more involving storyline, the black horses will race ahead of banking’s field.

Find out which of your ads are driving long-term growth. Sign up for Ad Ratings HERE.

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