Bank Adverts: The Biggest Lies Told On Television

Banks do not care about you. They don’t care about your hopes and dreams, nor do they care about your inability to pay the mortgage or your anger over the latest unfair charge they’ve levied on you. Banks only care about your money; making more of it is their only metric. None of them: not NatWest, Barclays, HSBC, Santander, nor Lloyds. Banks do not give a fuck about you.

I’m wary of falling into the trap of dismissing hundreds of thousands of people who might work for banks with one fell swoop. No doubt many of them are good, honest, honourable people. But frankly many are demonstrably not good, nor honourable, nor honest. The system in which they work has been perverted to reward bad behaviour and see customers simply in terms of their collateral. Politicians, business, media and even our own sense of what material possessions we think we should have are to blame for this. None of us are innocent but the sheer hypocrisy of the public face of the sector is, however, demonstrated through bank adverts.

Oh, look, it’s that Pink Ladies advert by HSBC, wanking on about how they’re the world’s local bank and aligning themselves with dreams coming true. HSBC, who has been using a subsidiary to help clients (including its own boss) conceal undeclared Swiss bank accounts – and therefore evade or avoid tax – and provided services to criminals and corrupt businessmen.

HSBC, helping very rich people dodge the tax that pays for hospitals, nurseries, libraries and police. Good old HSBC. The world’s local bank. The bank that has the gall to say ‘together, we advance’. Obviously some advance more equally than others in their worldview.

Oh, hello Barclays – LOOK AT THE HAMSTERS! Barclays, fined hundreds of millions of pounds for rigging the Libor rate, which determined interest rates for you and I, governments and businesses and potentially ruining them. ‘You-shaped banking’. Fuck-you-shaped banking.

Ah, RBS – owners of NatWest – who hand out multi-million quid allowances to top bankers in an effort to dodge bonus caps and sack hundreds of British workers in preference for Indian call-centre staff. And let’s not forget Forex, the rigging of foreign exchange rates to personal advantage. ‘Helpful banking’.

Santander. ‘Simple, Personal, Fair’. Santander, which set aside the best part of a billion quid to pay for a PPI mis-selling scandal. No doubt, if you’re on the receiving end it does feel rather personal. Of course, Santander also used to go under the strapline “Together. We are Santander”. Add a parenthetical “And You’re Not” onto the end of it and it sounds rather more true to life.

Lloyds: take your pick. Libor, junk-product misselling, PPI. “Moments matter,” they say. Homes, pets, your time. And those moments where staff were ‘lavished with bonuses and champagne for selling baffling products called ‘interest rate swaps’ to small firms alongside loans’ that threatened their livelihoods’.

My point is not that these specific banks must be destroyed, but that this is one case when you hate the player every bit as much as you hate the game. Banks are not simply faceless edifices nor cackling, baby-eating lunatics, any more than they are the friendly ‘we-just-want-to-help’ organisations they portray themselves as. But there are individuals and small groups of incredibly rich people at all of these banks who chose to make themselves richer at the expense of ‘ordinary’ people – either by directly ripping them off, tampering with interest rates to their own benefit, and the potential cost of others, or by attempting to cheat countries out of tax legally owed by incredibly rich people. However you want to portray that, it’s utterly filthy, corrupt and immoral behaviour.

These are not rogue traders: It’s endemic – the result of people who feel they are untouchable and have a right to do whatever they want, egged on by a ideology-driven government that wants to protect their right to makes as much money as possible and seems indifferent to whether this is done legally or not. Why else would HMRC refuse to prosecute HSBC clients for tax evasion or avoidance when it knew of over 1,100 and prosecuted just one? Why not employ more people to chase tax evaders, why not take a harder line with tax evaders, why not bring the weight of government to bear on people behaving illegally to the enormous detriment of the nation and its people?

Every time you see one of these adverts – where they pretend they give a toss about you; pretend they’re just the friendly neighbourhood bank teaching you how to answer emails and letting your Granny cash her pension – remind yourself of these facts.

They nearly destroyed the country. With their greed and arrogance and blindness they nearly bankrupted the entire country. And, faced with no alternative, we bailed them out, whereupon they tried to fuck us and our country again and again in their efforts to make themselves and obscenely rich people even richer. At my expense, at your expense.

Banks don’t hate you, you don’t matter enough. Their attitude to you is halfway between indifference and contempt. NatWest had the balls to make this explicit recently in their advert about teaser-rate credit cards where they acknowledge that banks try to screw you over with dodgy fees hidden behind insincere smiles and small print. But already, just a few years on from nearly wrecking the whole system in their blind greed, banks are making noises about how we shouldn’t criticise them, lest we endanger their business, even as massive fraud after massive fraud comes to light. And we seem to be prepared to shrug our shoulders and let them off the hook – perhaps we feel that we don’t have any meaningful power.

It’s insane. But the system we live in is insane. Move your bank account, write to your MP, sign a petition, open your window and scream “I’m as mad as Hell and I’m not going to take it anymore,” if it makes you feel better. But take heed. Bank adverts are the biggest lies told on television – that lie is that they view you as anything other than a means of making money – and their behaviour condemns them by demonstrating that neither law nor morality stands in their way.

Natwest teaser-rate advert

Know thine enemy.

The Worst Advert of 2014: Results

Well, well, well.

It seems that many people, rather than being touched by Sainsburys’ advert about the Christmas Truce, thought it was the worst advert of the year. I’ve explained previously why I thought so when it originally came out and in the end-of-the-year round-up, so I’m not going to repeat myself.

Suffice to say, I do hope this misadventure is the last we see of appalling moments in history being used to flog goods. And to anyone who wants to take this up with me, I offer the following question: In what way would it be worse to use 9/11 as a backdrop for advertising a supermarket in a similar idiom?

Of the other top three competing to be named worst advert of 2014, I was surprised but heartened to see Gladstone Brookes ranking highly. This aggravating, openly aggressive and hideously ubiquitous advert was like an aggressive fungus spreading across television screens in 2014. The product they were advertising? Charging you a wedge for the sake of sending out a templated letter.


There’s something offensive in a vaguely Dickensian way about that and while I’m sure their terrible advert played a part, I think the number of votes indicates that readers felt similarly about Gladstone Brookes’ business methods.

Hive rounds off the top three and was winning this poll for a fortnight or so. There was no more aggravating noise in 2014 than this ghastly, twee, try-hard ditty that sounds like it was sung in a shed by a man wearing a stupid pom-pom hat, drinking cloudy cider and thinks Ed Sheeran is the last word in cool music. From everyone in the world, Hive, I beg you to fuck right off.

The rest of the poll

I loved how Wonga spectacularly imploded this year, with their ads disappearing from screens as the company underwent a lengthly self-flagellation, execs were defenestrated and they admitted they’d lent money to people who wouldn’t be able to repay their loans in a million years. This was particularly satisfying as Wonga have made a habit of popping up on this blog over the years to complain that I’ve misrepresented them.

Picture 1

My big problem with the actual adverts is that they turn the serious business of borrowing money into some insane, infantilised pantomime – it’s a smoking gun, as far as I’m concerned, as to Wonga’s real market and in pulling these ads, they’ve admitted as much.

Hotels4U, another ad that simply vanished as quickly as it appeared, is the only advert I’ve ever seen that made me fear for the safety of the actors it featured. Their Twitter account reads: “If you love #hotels & high quality television adverts then you’ve come to the right place!”.

While not in any way offensive or annoying, the Co-Op advert smacked of a company that simply doesn’t know what it’s about anymore. The fact that an agency made this ad and the client signed it off is, frankly, a disastrous mistake by everyone concerned.

Will this be the year that Andrex stops trying to sell us their wet wipes? I don’t know, but I do hope it’s the year they stop telling us that they’re safe to flush. Especially as there’s a full ad campaign by water companies specifically designed to refute this claim. Where next for this lengthy campaign which seems determined to make us discuss faeces?

Picture 2

I’m not sure there’s much less to say about the remainder, other than how appallig they are. What I can guarantee is this: CompareTheMarket isn’t going anywhere, despite being the most overstayed welcome since Julian Assange at the Ecuadorian embassy; Sky Sports will continue to pretend that football matter, when it doesn’t fucking matter one bit; Apple will continue to be smug; beards will continue to be appropriated by fuckwits; cheese strings will remain vile in every respect and that we will never escape The Redknapps.

Happy New Year.


There were plenty of votes for other adverts readers hated, including lots (excluded here) that simply aaid ‘all of them’.

Mostly good choices on the whole, though I can’t agree with the Singing Toys advert. Even though I couldn’t tell you what it was advertising if I had a gun to my head, it was one of the best of the year for my money. I actually wrote to the makers of the ad to see if they’d let me have the wonky owl, but they never replied to me.

Natwest – 3 votes
Gala Bingo – 3 votes
Paddy Power – 2 votes
Singing toys – 2 votes
Oak Furniture Land – 1 vote
Carphone Warehouse – 1 vote
Sensodyne Toothpaste – 1 vote
Paypal – 2 votes
Bet 365 – 1 vote
Cadbury Xmas – 1 vote
Coral Windows Radio Advert – 1 vote
Vistaprint – 1 vote
John Lewis – 1 vote
Chloe Perfume – 1 vote
Argos – 1 vote
Go Compare – 1 vote
Vanarama – 1 vote
Famous Grouse – 1 vote
First4Lawyers – 1 vote
MyMate – 1 vote
Renault Zoe – 1 vote