Peter York on ads No 280 Natwest Bank: A bank that helps you get out of the ant hill

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
The clearing banks have a problem; no one knows who they are or what they're for any longer. Yet they make supernormal-sounding profits in good times, and it's resented. Any business from outside banker-land that people like or trust or find interesting - M & S, Virgin, Tesco - finds itself able to attract significant chunks of "ordinary" domestic- banking business away from them pretty easily. The banks really are faceless and brandless.

So new bank advertising campaigns are interesting for precisely this reason - because they have to try so hard. They are huge accounts, spending tens of millions on TV, and they're attempting to solve massive relationship and branding problems.

NatWest, product of a 1960s merger, has possibly the most unfascinating name and logo of them all (the logo's a classic bit of 1960s corporate identity design - three foreshortened arrow things in a sort of triangle, meant to express all the dynamic nothingness of the "White heat of Technology" era: a period when the managers were still Captain Mainwarings). Not surprisingly they've avoided the caring, sharing banks-are-people-too attempt to give the activity a human face, realising that it's not going to be believed. They've gone for practical claims in two treatments.

In the air-safety manual treatment, everything's got a big red arrow for exit, and everybody's working to get free - escaping into the air- conditioning ducts, climbing filing cabinets to the window. Aircraft slides unfurl from office windows; ejectors send middle managers on parachutes to happy landings. NatWest, the voice-over says, arranged 67,000 such escapes last year - people who got away and set up their own businesses.

But the other treatment's more irritating. It's saying you can get cash from NatWest absolutely anywhere - more places than anyone else - but the graphic style's so utterly distracting you could miss the point, while you're thinking, why do the banks do this, why do they remind you quite so forcibly of their restructured, back-officed, processing-centred systems- driven Swindon and Bournemouth Seventies mid-rise office block culture by taking on this free form leading-edge imagery? And, alas, the terrible office ant-life prison in the clever air-safety cartoons makes you think of nothing so much as the world of the NatWest Tower.