Why the new TSB advert may be the most shameless and cynical ever

As you may have noticed, the TSB brand is back on the High Street. For those of us that remember the old Trustee Savings Bank – I opened my very first bank account with the TSB back in the 1990s – having the Bank That Likes To Say Yes back in action seems a bit like a return to the halcyon days of old fashioned banking.

The TSB’s return has been accompanied by a charming animated

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If you haven’t seen it yet, it’s here:

Now, I have no axe to grind with the TSB. I’m sure the people who work there are lovely and I never had any trouble with my current account there 20 odd years ago. What I do have a problem with, though, is this advert: one of the most disingenuous I have ever seen.

For reasons of clarity, let’s outline the facts surrounding TSB’s recent past:

1. The bank existed as its own entity until 1986

2. In 1986 shares in TSB Bank were floated on the stock market

3. In 1995 it merged with the Lloyds Banking Group. The two brands were amalgamated and shareholders then owned shares in Lloyds TSB

4. In 2008, the falling HBOS share price led Lloyds taking over its rival. Lloyds TSB shareholders approved the takeover in November 2008 (thanks to JP for the clarification, here)

5. The British Government bailed out the bank by buying a 43.4% stake in the group in 2009

6. As this purchase was considered ‘state aid’, under European Commission competition laws, the group was required to sell a portion of its business

7. The group decided that a number of Lloyds TSB branches in England and Wales, together with all branches of Lloyds TSB Scotland plc and Cheltenham & Gloucester will form a new business which will operate under the TSB brand

8. The new TSB bank is expected to float in 2014

In short, the TSB bank ceased to exist in 1995 when shareholders approved a merger with Lloyds. Then, the ‘new’ bank was taken over by HBOS and, thanks to its failure and the requirement for government intervention, was forced to divest itself of 632 branches

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which are now branded as TSB.

Let’s check this version of events against the TSB advert, shall we?

“He [Henry Duncan] built a bank whose sole purpose was to help hard working, local people. He believed industry could be encouraged and a sense of pride and independence fostered only when a bank served its community with the people’s interests at its heart.”

Hmm. Nice ideas but starting to look a bit shaky at the point where the bank is considering a stock market flotation…

“The groundwork had been laid for ordinary people to thrive, along with their neighbours. To build communities together. Secure in the knowledge that their money was safe and working for the benefit of all.”

I’m pretty sure that the nature of a stockmarket flotation – as TSB did in 1986 – means that the bank is now working for the benefit of its shareholders rather than its customers. And, a merger with a major rival that is approved by shareholders doesn’t suggest to me that the money ‘was working for the benefit of all’.

Anyway, it goes on.

“And then a storm came. In the turbulent times that followed it was easy to think the ideals that Henry Duncan held so dear had been lost forever. But they hadn’t. They had always been here just waiting to be found. TSB – Welcome back to local banking.”


So, we’re supposed to buy the notion that the relaunch of the TSB brand is an attempt to reconnect with 200 year old visions of what a bank should be like? That Lloyds and subsequently HBOS were simply keeping TSB warm and cosy until such a time when the British public demanded that behaviour from a bank again? That the TSB is going to be a local bank run for the benefit of its customers?

The TSB is back for one reason and one reason only: because HBOS – its owner- failed, the government bailed it out and the laws meant that they had to flog some of their assets. Indeed, had the Co-Operative Bank not pulled out of a deal for the 632 branches at the eleventh hour, the TSB would still be a distant memory and those locations would now be branded as the Co-Op.

And next year the TSB will be floated, once again owned by shareholders and ripe for being gobbled up by a rival when the economy recovers.

I can’t help thinking that Henry Duncan – the man behind the TSB – wouldn’t be celebrating at the return of the ideals on which his bank was based. He’d be disappointed and let down by the appalling spin that HBOS are putting on this whole campaign. Inaccurate, shameless and cynical, this is one of the most unpleasant adverts I’ve seen in recent years.

English students identify the 3 factors that make great copy

Since October, I’ve been teaching a professional writing course to a group of second year degree students at the University of Nottingham. Their Creative and Professional Writing degree is one of only a handful of courses in the UK that incorporates copywriting, business writing and copy-editing as well as more traditional English modules. And, as it’s a compulsory module, they all have to come to the lectures. (You’ll have to ask them about that.)

Before Christmas, I set them an assignment which contributed towards their final degree grade. I asked them to identify the three factors that, in their opinion, were essential to great quality copy. They then had to critique a piece of copy against these criteria.

Having marked the 17 assignments, I thought it would be interesting to share the results with you, and for you to see what the students consider the three factors that make great copy. In order, the results were:

  1. The copy should be clear, concise and easy to read
  2. It should contain good ‘calls to action’
  3. It should be focused on the reader

Other choices included ‘a good headline’, ‘the correct tone of voice’, ‘it should be reader focused’ and ‘it should be benefit driven’.

Now, clearly these are all important factors and a good piece of copy will no doubt satisfy all of these criteria and more. However, it got me thinking as to what my choice of three factors would have been. After some deliberation, I think I’d have chosen:

  1. Good copy should be benefit driven
  2. It should focus on the reader
  3. It should have a good call to action

Some of the students had an excellent grasp of copywriting ‘theory’ (such as it is) and produced some excellent work, justifying their choices with research and examples. But, if you had been asked to complete a similar assignment, what would you have chosen? Do you agree with the students’ choices? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.


Author: Nick Parkhouse, Published 18 January 2013

Has or Have?

Is Manchester United a singular or a plural?

The reason I ask is that one of my

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current clients is a major local motor retailer. And, you’ve probably worked for companies and had this same issue yourself.? Let’s call them Sandicliffe (as that’s their name).

When writing a press release for them the other week, I found myself totally confused as to which of these phrases was correct:

Sandicliffe have launched a new initiative
Sandicliffe has launched

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new initiative

I’ve also encountered this problem when writing things like “Chelsea have a great away record this season” (clearly not true, but bear with me) and “England have a tricky away trip in France.”

Technically, I suppose that as a sports team or a company is one entity then the correct grammar would be to say that “Scotland has a great record” in the same way that “Madonna has a great voice”. But, it just doesn’t sound right.

So, which is it? Sandicliffe have a great range of used card? Or Sandicliffe has a great range of used cars? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

Choosing an e-mail subject line to guarantee readers

Here’s something that I’d really appreciate your help with.

I’m writing a monthly newsletter for a client of mine who runs a

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catering company in London.? They produce lovely breakfast and lunch platters of sandwiches, wraps, cakes, pastries and fruit for meetings, conferences and so forth.? The newsletter is intended to go to existing customers and subscribers by e-mail.

I’ve written the copy which is broadly in four small pieces:

  • A personal piece from the owner (a sort of ‘Happy New Year’ and an introduction to the rest of the newsletter)
  • A focus on one of his products relevant to the time of year
  • A ‘did you know?’ piece with some random trivia and facts
  • A special offer for newsletter subscribers

The template he has is lovely and the newsletter is easily readable and not too long.

My issue though is this: I’m not sure what to put in the subject line of the e-mail.? I have been racking my brains this morning for something catchy that would encourage recipients to open the e-mail and read the newsletter immediately.? Part of me thinks that focusing on the one main benefit (the exclusive

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discount) would be the way forward, whereas part of me thinks it should have something to do with the subject (so a New Year reference, so when I do next months the subject can be whatever I choose to write about in February (probably Valentine’s Day)).

Does anyone have any ideas

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or experience of this?? What works best?? Please share in the comments below.? Thanks!

Pay less: get more – the vagaries of Boots’ pricing

I’ve been into Boots this week to get some photographs developed.? Choosing their 24 hour service, I selected the photos I wanted by using their little touchscreen machine.

Now, there were quite a lot of pictures that I needed and once I was finished, I noted that I’d chosen 119 photos at a total cost of £17.85 (a 6” X 4” photo cost 15p).

It was a bit more than I wanted to pay, so I glanced at the price list to see if there was a cheaper option.? It was then I noticed their ‘super saver’ offer.? This offer boasted a reduced charge of 5p per print if I ordered more 200 photos or more.

I looked at the price list and did a bit of mental arithmetic in my head.? It doesn’t take Carol Vorderman to work out that 200 photos at 5p each costs, er, £10.? I puzzled this for a moment, and then added a further 81 prints to my order (mostly duplicates of existing photos that I’d chosen which I didn’t really want).

Sure enough, when I’d selected 200 photos, my total bill came to £10.? So, I completed my order, took my receipt and will be heading to pick them up later this week.

I’m still utterly perplexed by this pricing policy.

I’d have been happy to pay 5p a photo for my 119 prints.? Hell, I’d have been happy to pay £10 for the 119 prints that I wanted.? But no – to get this price I had to order 81 additional photographs which, frankly, I may as well lob in the bin as soon as I pick them up.

I do understand reducing the ‘per unit’ cost to encourage people to spend more money.? However, shouldn’t the point of such pricing be to increase my total spend, not decrease it?? For example, if I’d been offered the 200 prints for, say, £20, I may well have paid the additional £2.15 to

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66 photos at their price of 15p costs £9.90.? Between 67 and 199 photos costs you somewhere between £10.05 and £29.85. ? Then, the cost of 200 photos reduces to £10.? Indeed, 596 photos

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would actually cost less than 199 photos using this pricing policy.

Anyone explain this to me? Clearly there aren’t huge economies of scale to be had by ordering a larger number of prints.? How can I order nearly 70% more product and reduce my total spend by 44%?