When I first started working in advertising back in the early 1990s, I worked on the Lloyds Bank account at a division of famed ad agency Lowe Howard-Spink.
The part of the account I worked on wasn’t let anywhere near the TV stuff – we had to do the point of sale and direct mail grunt work. But the dozens of leaflets and posters and mailpacks we produced always had half an eye on referencing the essence of what the TV work was communicating: that Lloyds Bank was “The Thoroughbred Bank”.
For many years, even back then, Lloyds Bank TV ads had featured a galloping black horse and the Thoroughbred Bank endline. The agency had taken the black horse that had been a feature of the bank’s logo since as far back as 1884 and used it as a more dynamic branding device.
Three decades on, and the galloping black horse is again front and centre of the bank’s TV ads – as it has been on-and-off in the intervening years.
A friend of mine, knowing my own heritage with the bank’s ads recently asked me why on earth Lloyds Bank were still using black horses in their advertising: “Have they not got anything more interesting to say about themselves?” was the general gist.
I think the answer lies in the 21st century business context in which all the UK high street banks now have to operate.
Most of the big high street banks don’t see their share of new current accounts shift between them by more than a percentage point or two over time. They all seem to have been here since time immemorial, and their core current account propositions are all pretty similar.
Where they do face competition, however, isn’t with each other, but with new fintechs starting up without the legacy systems (and perhaps also without the legacy compliance culture) that prevent the big banks from doing anything especially dynamic in the personal banking market.
Companies like Revolut, Atom Bank and Monzo have been snapping at the heels of the big banks for a little while now, and there’s a certain cohort of consumers – I hesitate to call them Millennials – who are quite happy to trust their cash to these virtual start-ups rather than the more traditional banks with a high street presence.
The likes of Lloyds Bank (and HSBC, NatWest and the rest) don’t want to compete with the newer snappier brands on price because doing so would cannibalise their existing profitable business. Revolut, for example, are able to use their low-cost-base digital-only platform to offer wafer-thin exchange rates which the branch-cost-laden high street banks couldn’t hope to match profitably.
So the traditional banks have to pick another battlefield to fight on.
The point of difference Lloyds Bank have harnessed in their advertising is their longevity. I think they do this better than any other bank, and I think they’ve been very shrewd in doing so.
Sure, Barclays and NatWest and the rest of the big boys have been around for as long as most folk can remember too, but I’d defy anyone to recall a thematic creative thread that runs across their advertising that goes back several decades.
Lloyds Bank’s strategy seems to be based around the (not unrealistic) presumption that from time to time one of the new fintech start-ups will go bust – or at the very least burn all their VC funding and start to have to turn a reasonable profit and raise their customer charges and fees to pay for it.
And at that point a flight to quality will be triggered as folk who trusted a rogue start up with their life savings scramble to get their money back.
I believe the continued decades-long use of galloping black horses in their advertising deliberately leads consumers to infer that – unlike the start-ups – Lloyds Bank is not a here-today-gone-tomorrow outfit.
The whole point of the current suite of Lloyds Bank ads is not that the ads are fresh, but that they are familiar.
What Lloyds Bank (and current agency Adam & Eve DDB) seem to appreciate is that rather than breeding contempt, in financial services familiarity breed trust.
And if you ask most consumers what values they believe are most important in a financial company, “trust” generally comes very close to the top in most surveys.
So by playing on brand longevity, and continuing to invest in decades-old brand codes, Lloyds Bank seem to be successfully embedding their reputation as a financial institution that is a little more trustworthy than the Johnny-come-latelys.
Will today’s galloping black horse ad win any awards for creativity? I very much doubt it (sorry Adam & Eve DDB). That’s not really the point.
(In fact I’d be interested to know whether the continued use of the black horse imagery was proposed by the agency – *waves at Les Binet* – or a mandatory insisted upon by the bank.)
Will the Lloyds Bank brand still appear familiar to consumers in another 10 or 20 or 30 years’ time? If they carry on with the same thematic creative strategy, I’d expect so.
Could the same be said for Monzo or Atom Bank or any of the others fintech start ups?
Lloyds Bank’s creative gamble is that many of them won’t be around long enough to find out the answer.
Picture credit: Adam & Eve DDB