Free shares? What free shares?

PETER YORK ON ADS : No 162: THE HALIFAX
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The Independent Culture
Economists say the "privatisation" of building societies will put more feelgood money into the economy than all of the Eighties' "Sid" share-profits put together. However, advertising designed to roll us along this particular Shining Path, by getting building-society savers to vote for a change of status, is obliged to be less than 100 per cent direct. It can't appear to prejudice the outcome - it can only urge investors to vote. And it clearly can't say what the immediate rewards are - a couple of hundred shares that can be sold for a quick profit (that's a PR job).

What the advertisers have chosen to do instead is to emphasise the hugeness of the issue, as a proxy for the hugeness of the reward. Thus for the Halifax we have the Giant Baby and the Enormous Room. In the first a pair of old women in a supermarket muse on a huge baby prowling the aisles. "Hasn't he grown?" "Bigger than his dad." "But not as big as the Halifax vote." Rising behind the Great Baby is the tiny father holding his toddler's reins. "Use your vote and be part of something big" goes the voice-over, as the old women join the end of an X-shaped queue.

The Huge Room treatment seems designed for the more upscale kind of saver. Into a massive white room walk two men, through a tiny door. Being so white and blank, the room has something of the feeling of a gallery space for leading-edge art. One of the pair is pretentious black-cloakey and middle class, the other red-anoraked and plebby. "Now this you'd have to agree is a very, very big space," says black cloak. "Or maybe it's us who are very, very small," says red anorak. "And it's not as big as the Halifax vote." Then off they shuffle, accompanied by the thought that eight million eligibles will shortly receive their voting packs. Not a word about trousering dosh, just bigness - and significantly more humorous and less big-budget-Spielbergian-fantasy than the Eighties numbers from BT and British Gas.

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