Peter York on Ads: A cunning attack on Mr Stodgy

No 297: Smile
Click to follow
The Independent Culture
We're set up for asteroid strikes, instant Ice Ages and Nostradamal predictions generally. Some of us anyway. It's the Millennium spirit. How clever then of the Co-operative Bank - and it is clever - to exploit the mood with an end-of-the-world commercial which positively drives you to its website (www. smile.co.uk) when it's a new online bank that it is selling. It's a nicely judged launch ad - a big teaser statement, a distinctive, deliberately divisive style, and an apparent deliverable.

The bank is running two treatments. In the first it's a parade of strong, sad faces, filmed with one of those under-sea gloom-green filters. Everyone has pronounced noses and deep hollows. Several are black. "The world ends 28 10 99," says the grim caption. Then there's a long pan to a pretty mixed-race girl who looks about 14, but sad, too. "Smile," says the screen in pink letters and a modish Modernist Revival typeface: Smile is the internet bank from the Co-operative Bank.

In the other treatment, there is a sublimely miserablist setting in black and white - a concrete car-park, with tower blocks in the background, and disconsolate people, and cyclists in slo-mo. And rain. A running man, rushes at a shop door where they're turning the card from "open" to "closed". Then they tell you again that the world is ending.

It's intended to recruit a particular group of people - young, "media- savvy", net-literate, all those things of course - screening them out from the less responsive souls who'd far rather interact with the fridge than an online bank. Precisely the group that can see itself being targeted a mile off.

Here, however, the Co-op Bank has a huge advantage in its corporate brand: its non-membership of the Big Four; its "community bank" background; its recent ethical-bank positioning. All that's a better launch-pad for an internet banking initiative than a history as Mr Stodgy of the High Street. And it makes this moody style - there's something reminiscent of the launch campaign for Heat magazine about it - more credible; the Co-op Bank's been doing the New Age look since the early 1990s.

There is already a fair bit of this - steam-age TV advertising selling dedicated online services. There'll be a lot more. Some advertisers - like AOL - aim to make themselves desperately domestic and user-friendly. Others, like Smile, recognise and exaggerate the culture gap. And I suspect its website itself could convince the Big Four's younger customers to move overnight.

Comments