Peter York on Ads: Cut the comical stuff, just gimme the railcard


For nearly 30 years big banks have been targeting young people, students in particular, because the rest, once banked, seemed so reluctant to move accounts. But students were well-paid, middle-class people in the making, so if you bribed them effectively and got them signed up you'd built yourself a nice Lifetime Customer Value. Out of this observation came a mass of adverts and promotions that had people on campuses signing up to several banks at a time for the toys and perks.

NatWest's commercials are always knocking other banks' failings - Bombay call centres, absentee managers and so on - and promising to do better, so spoofing go-go bank managers seems right up their street. Thus a John Major grey-suited suburbanite bank manager, pitched that bit older and less estuarine than the real thing, I'd say, that bit more Guildford, revealing that they've done a lot of research into today's student profile. As a result he and his posse have been laying down some ripping sounds for everyone to lash up. Certainly he and his wife Marjorie are going to. (And while we're carbon-dating comic conceits I'd say that "fine woman, Marjorie" was late Eighties Fry and Laurie in their spoof of that boatbuilding family saga.)

Anyway he's saying it's the worst, the baddest bank and absolutely massive and making some funny hand signals. "My bank is offering a free CD," says an unimpressed student type. But meanwhile NatWest is offering a free Young Person's Railcard and a third off rail fares for five years. That's something worth having for the Sensible Saffy sector, and offered in a thoroughly grown-up way.

All this makes the competitive Grey Groovers hold their crotches in agony. They've posed together a bit like Suits You Sirs. This is what Cult Studs majors call a historically mediated dialogue with a fair bit of appropriation thrown in. But we'll have the railcard, thank you.