Nationwide TV ads starring Dominic West banned as misleading

Adverts featuring the actor Dominic West as a sneering bank manager will be pulled from TV in their current form after the advertising watchdog ruled they were misleading because they wrongly suggest that the building society had not closed branches.

The Advertising Standards Authority (Asa) received 281 complaints, including one from rival lender Santander, about the advert, which ran in October and November. The Nationwide campaign took a swipe at high street banks that have been closing branches.

The advert showed West, who starred as Jimmy McNulty in The Wire and played King Charles in Netflix’s The Crown, as a fictional, hard-nosed bank manager intent on closing branches. He mocks customers who have lost their life savings as a “total yawn fest”, clicks his fingers for a green smoothie and says: “We’re not Nationwide are we, we’re nothing like them.”

The advert ends with a shot of a Nationwide branch and a voiceover that state: “Unlike the big banks we’re not closing our branches.”

The campaign also ran on the radio and in press adverts, where Nationwide said: “Going, Going, Nowhere,” with further text adding: “Unlike the big banks, we’re not closing our branches.”

The TV advertising campaign was part of a marketing push under the chief executive, Debbie Crosbie, to help to differentiate Nationwide, which is acquiring Virgin Money for £2.9bn, as a mutual, as distinct from its big bank rivals.

On Wednesday, the ASA ruled that Nationwide’s advertising was “misleading” and that the adverts “must not appear again in their current form”.

“We told Nationwide Building Society not to mislead in relation to the closure of their branches,” it said.

The ASA ruled that “consumers would understand from the ads that Nationwide would not be closing branches in the long-term future and that they had not recently closed branches; we concluded that the ads were misleading”.

The decision by the ASA relates to the first advert in the campaign rather than the one currently being aired. Nationwide has updated the advert with new wording to reflect a promise it made in March to keep branches open until 2028.

In its response to the ASA, Nationwide said it had promised in 2019 and 2023 not to leave a town or city without a branch where there was no alternative. The mutual said
that its claims in the adverts had been in the present tense, referring to future closures.

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Nationwide, which closed two branches in 2023, clarified to the ASA that its most recent branch closure had been in April 2023,six months before the advertising campaign started, andt herefore it did not believe the adverts were misleading.

Nationwide said it had trialled reduced opening hours in 88 branches as an alternative to closing them. It did not consider reduced opening hours were an omission from the advertising that could be considered misleading.

Nationwide said: “We recognise the ASA’s decision and are delighted to have the opportunity to make even clearer our now extended branch promise to keep every branch open until the start of 2028.”

Bank branch closures have become a growing political issue. The Treasury committee of MPs heard in March that the number of bank branches had halved since the 1980s. Barclays, which had 1,577 bank branches in October 2013, now has just 300, the committee heard.

The Guardian