Howard Brown, the jolly, bespectacled singing star of the Halifax television ads, has been dropped by his employers after an internal review recommended that the bank's future marketing campaigns should adopt a more serious tone.
The bank is realigning its advertising strategy to bring it in line with the present cautious economic conditions, and the musical services of Mr Brown, 42, who was just a lowly employee at the company before being selected to front its campaign in 2000, will not be required.
Mr Brown has been the face of the Halifax for the past eight years, when the company's playful "staff as stars" advertising campaign was launched. The ads, which featured Mr Brown and some of his co-workers performing famous musical numbers with reworked lyrics, proved to be a resounding success despite being regularly voted as among the most irritating ads on television.
In his first appearance on Boxing Day in 2000, Mr Brown was seen singing a reworded version of Tom Jones's "Sex Bomb". He went on to appear in a further seven ads for the bank, of which one of the more bizarre pictured him straddling a giant swan. In another ad, he was instructed to send up Gene Kelly's umbrella jig with a song titled "Savin' In The Rain".
Halifax even created a computer-generated version of Mr Brown to use in a series of ads designed to give the bank a friendlier, less intimidating image. His round spectacles and bubbly demeanour soon made him a household name, so much so that a waxwork of him was commissioned by Madame Tussauds.
DLKW, the London-based advertising agency responsible for the "staff as stars" campaign, will take charge of the new marketing strategy after being reappointed by Halifax on Tuesday. The bank, which sets aside £18m a year to fund its creative advertising account, had considered pitches from rival agencies but eventually decided to stick with its existing partner. Dan Shute, the director of the Halifax account at DLKW, said: "The financial world is very different in 2008 from the one that we started working with in the year 2000, so a change was necessary. But it would be wrong to suggest that this is a reassurance campaign from Halifax – it's just recognising that times have changed."
Mr Brown used to work at a Halifax branch in Sheldon near Birmingham before he rose to fame, but is now employed full-time as a "brand ambassador". It is not know what will happen to Mr Brown now he is no longer part of the brand.
The reshuffle is also likely to bring a premature end to the showbiz careers of the bank's other all-singing, all-dancing staff members. They include Natalie Webster, 29, who used to sing at pub karaoke nights before her television appearances with the Halifax's take on Aretha Franklin's "Think", and Thomas Yau, 25, who was plucked from one of the bank's call centres in Leeds to appear in the most recent ad, which was filmed on a South African beach. After filming their respective ads, the pair returned to their regular jobs.
Halifax yesterday refused to deny reports that Mr Brown had been dismissed from the company's advertising campaign, but called them "a bit premature". "It's very much about evolution rather than revolution," said a spokesman. "We are looking at how we develop that campaign, but it's still too early to say what future campaigns will look like and feel like."