York on ads: Listening bank gambles on an old numbers game: No 50: The Midland Bank

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THE Midland Bank has got itself noticed with its new commercials - meaning people told me I should watch them before they turned up on this week's tape - and that's half the battle. The ads, three back- to-back in some slots, amount to three minutes' viewing, have very high production values and use very familiar music. They've gone all out.

But they 're fighting a very old battle, on a field littered with bodies. They're trying to make a Big Four high-street clearing bank interesting, likeable and distinctive just as public cynicism about them as indistinguishable dinosaurs is at a peak. Ever since the Seventies bank manager in the cupboard, the clearers have spent a fortune putting their case as caring, listening, sentient beings. And hip too: much of that money has been directed at young people.

The Midland series isn't doing much more. It makes no unique service claims nor is it showing Attitude. Instead it offers attractive vignettes constructed around hit songs rather than using them as background.

The ads are built like rock videos, in time with the music, but with subtitled words. Thus a twentysomething mouths 'I'm looking for a place of my own' to the tune of 'Maggie May'; a middle-class wife opening a cafe to boost the family income says 'it's a little bit frightening' to the call- and-response of the gospel choir on 'Say a Little Prayer'. A thirtysomething daddy who looks like a retired member of Madness finds 'my days are complicated' to the tune of 'It Must Be Love'.

The whole suggests the bank knows what songs mean to people; that it's an interesting business and it can help. The help comes in trad parcels - special rates for first-time buyers; 'we care about our service' and 'the Midland Business Commitment'.

The really interesting question about these playlets is whether they're selling anything other than old songs.

Tapes supplied by Tellex Commercials.

(Photograph omitted)