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

The Mary Poppins Guide to Copywriting

For forty five years, children and adults alike have been spellbound by the story of the world’s favourite nanny, Mary Poppins.? While the main purpose of her flying visit (pun intended) was to repair the fractured relationship between Jane and Michael Banks and their uptight, stuffy father, the supernanny also taught the children important lessons about priorities, how to behave and, of course, the basics of copywriting.

Well, I can’t be sure the last bit is exactly what P.L. Travers or Walt Disney intended, but, you have to admit, Poppins was something of a copywriting guru.

A Spoonful Of Sugar

For every task that must be done, there is an element of fun.? It’s not a song about cleaning up the nursery; it is one of the basic rules of copywriting.? You have to give the reader a personal benefit.

A spoonful of sugar in itself doesn’t sound all that appealing.? Even if it were described as an ‘award winning spoonful of sugar from a company that’s been in business 35 years’ it still doesn’t really offer you anything of any value.

However, a spoonful of sugar that will help you by making your medicine go down?? Now you’re talking.


If you say it loud enough, you’ll always sound precocious. ? Wise words, indeed. ? Copywriting isn’t a game of ‘spot how clever you are’ – it is a game of making people understand what you are saying.

You might know that your product is a great tasting beverage; to others it’s merely a drink.? You might want to purchase or acquire something; most of us just buy it.? And, you might be offering customers the very best ‘flexible, reusable storage solution’ but a four year old will tell you that it is just a cardboard box.

If you are writing a University essay or something for the Financial Times, then let your vocabulary run riot.? If not, the sound of ii will be something quite atrocious.

Stay Awake/I Love to Laugh

Copy is not designed as a cure for insomnia.? ? ? It is supposed to engage readers; to make them interested and excited about your product or service.? Too many websites contain long, boring descriptions of product features that are neither customer focused or in the slightest bit interesting.

Make your copy snappy, personal, amiable and, in some cases, funny.? The more you laugh, the more you fill with glee; the more the glee, the more we’re a merrier we.

A British Bank

…is run with precision (well, at least it was in 1910, perhaps not so much today).? A British home, requires nothing less.? And, of course, a copywriting agency also requires accuracy and precision.

Tradition, discipline, and rules must be the tools, without them – disorder! Catastrophe! Anarchy! In short, we have a ghastly mess!

Make sure that you double and triple check all your work before letting a client see it.? Proof read and spell check it – and even get a colleague to have a look over it to pick up on any errors that you might have missed.? If a client finds a mistake in your work, your integrity is instantly damaged as they will immediately wonder what other blunders they haven’t spotted.

So, follow all of Poppins’ rules and both you and your clients will be happy.? They will improve their web traffic and sales, and you will be free to, oh, I don’t know – go fly a kite?? Feed the birds, maybe…?


Nick Parkhouse is a professional writer. If you need web copy, articles, books or press releases, get in touch with Nick now at info@nickparkhouse.com

Nick’s first book, 101 Forgotten Pop Hits of the 1980s, is also now available through Author House, Amazon and Waterstones.

The Number One Tip To Writing Great Copy

copywritingSeneca, the Roman dramatist and philosopher, once said that “the best ideas are common property”.

Do you know what my one golden rule is for any copywriting jobs? Use words that have been proven to work.

There is no point in you spending hours writing your own great copy if it isn’t effective. You might think that it is the best thing you have ever written but if it doesn’t work, no-one will care how fantastic it is.? It will be about as much use as a chocolate teapot.

Anyone who provides copywriting services should have a file, folder or scrapbook with examples of proven, successful sales copy.? You will have seen great sales

copy in books or articles.? You will no doubt have read the famous sales letters that have shown their effectiveness by generating millions of pounds worth of revenue.? You’ll have received direct mailings from businesses that have forced you into action.? You will have seen headlines and articles on the Internet that have been proven to work.? Keep them, and use them.


The key to great copy writing, of course, is not that you transcribe these examples word for word. The secret to great copy is to adapt them, filter them, and use the relevant pieces for the copy that you are writing.? Context is everything.? You might have an example of a great direct mail letter for selling wine but it might not be the best way to market double glazing.

What you should do, though, is start with a template of something that has proven efficacy and then build your copy from there.? There is absolutely no point in reinventing the wheel.

Use the language others are using

Sites like Google and Twitter are full of people’s personal thoughts, feelings, dreams and aspirations.? ? By accessing them you can find the specific language people are using today.? Listen to your readers, and respond to them in your copy.? Your writing can talk to them directly in a way it has not been possible to do before.

A combination of proven words that you have assembled over the years and an understanding of what your target market is looking for can generate hypnotic sales copy writing.? ? Use words that work in your writing jobs but remember to make the most of the context.

Subscribe to Nick Parkhouse to learn how to improve the effectiveness and quality of your writing.

Nick Parkhouse is a professional copywriter. He provides articles, copy, press releases and books and marketing material to a range of international clients. He also specialises in sports writing for a number of international sports companies as well property, politics and cinema writing.

7 Steps To Editing Direct Mail Copy

copywriterRoscoe Born, former Wall Street Journal editor, once said, “What you have written is only preparation for what you are going to write.”

Once you have written the first draft of your direct mail marketing copy, then it’s time to follow respected copywriter Guy Yolton’s seven key editing steps.

1. Edit for warm-up

At the beginning of your direct mail letter will probably be a statement that got you warmed up.? Something like: “As a successful company owner, you know that managing people is a difficult job…”

The reader already knows this. If your letter contains some information they want to know about, tell them immediately.? They want to know what is new, or what you have to offer them.

2. Edit for stoppers

These often show up when you read your draft copy back to yourself, or when you read it to someone else.? Stoppers are words and phrases that are awkward, contrived, and out of the ordinary.? They hold up your reader and interrupt the rhythm of a piece that otherwise flows smoothly from one idea to another.

3. Edit for author’s pride

A beautifully-turned phrase is fine if it adds a unique and powerful twist to a sales point and keeps the copy moving.? However, if you have come up with a catchy expression that stops your reader along the way while she admires your handiwork and forgets what you’re working at, you may never get her back on track.

If a reader has to

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stop to figure out what your phrases or metaphors mean, they will probably never make it to the end. Delete those little fancy bits that appeal only to you (and

your fellow copywriters.)

4. Edit for order

There are natural sequences of ideas that are easier for people to follow.

For example, ‘small, big, bigger, biggest.’ If you are describing the advantages of your product, this could be the best way to build them.

If your explanation is related to time, use ‘then, now, later on, future.’

Make sure everything is in the right order.

5. Edit for “reason why”

Do the benefits and features you attribute to your product just sit there in mid-air, supported only by the fact that they appear on paper?? Why does it do what you say it will?? How did it get that way?? What proof can you offer?? The reader needs a little more than unsupported assertions to decide to buy.

6. Edit to stretch benefits

This kind of editing is related to what Elmer Wheeler meant when

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he said, “Sell the sizzle, not the steak.”

Your letter might suggest benefits, but does it go far enough? As a copywriter, have you really explained to readers what the benefits are?

7. Edit for market

Is your reader male or female, educated or uneducated? Do they have a large or modest income? Are they old or young?

When re-reading your draft copy, is your language, style, and tone something your reader can be comfortable with on their own terms? Writing for readers of The Economist is different to writing for readers of Nuts or Chat.? Have you tailored the language used in your copy specifically for the target market?

Subscribe to Nick Parkhouse to learn how to improve the effectiveness and quality of your writing.

Nick Parkhouse is a professional writer and copywriter. He provides articles, copy, press releases, books and marketing material to a

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The Single Best Word You Can Use In Copy

YouWhat do you suppose the single best word is that you can use in any sales or copy writing that you do?

I’ll give you a clue – it’s in the title of this article.

That’s right. The best word you can use, in any writing jobs that you do, is ‘you’.

Consider this. If I had titled this article ‘The Single Best Word I Use

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In Copy’ the chances are you would not have cared one jot. Why on earth would you care what great word I like to use in my work?

The fact I called it ‘The Single Best World You Can Use In Copy’ means that there’s something in it for you.

Of all the possible subjects in the world, you are the one that you are most interested in. When you pick something up to read, what are you subconsciously asking yourself? Generally speaking you’ll be asking

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‘What’s in this for me?’ or ‘How does this help me?’ Most people do. And only by giving people what they want, will they listen to you.

You don’t write a Valentine’s card by saying “I’m great, will you go out with me?” do you? You write “You’re great, will you go out with me?” Or maybe you don’t, and you’re still single.

Any salesman or copywriter will tell you that there’s no sale without rapport. And there’s no rapport without taking an interest in the reader and what they want or what they need. We have all read literature from companies who babble on about how great they are and how brilliant their product is. Do we care what their mission statement is and that they won an award in 2004? No. All we really want to know is what they and their product can do

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When you understand what your readers are interested in, you are in a position of control. Whether you are a technical writer or copywriter you can create something that grabs their attention. And if the thing that readers are most interested in is themselves, then why not write about them? It’s a surefire way to make readers take notice.

In his great book Hypnotic Writing, Joe Vitale tells the story of how, when Disney Studios released the film Arachnophobia, it was billed as a ‘comedy-thriller’. When Disney discovered that audiences didn’t care about comedy-thrillers, they billed the movie as a ‘horror’. It was exactly the same film, just a different approach.

Remember – in copywriting you have to think of your readers, not yourself.

Subscribe to Nick Parkhouse to learn how to improve the effectiveness and quality of your writing.

Nick Parkhouse is a professional copywriter. He provides articles, copy, press releases, books and marketing material to a range of international clients. He also specialises in sports writing for a number of international sports companies as well as property, finance, politics and cinema writing.

What Is Copywriting?

copywritingCopywriting is, arguably, the most essential element of effective marketing. Whereas technical writing might be considered the art of informing readers, copywriting is the art of persuading readers.

Whereas the term ‘copy’ can be applied to almost any content intended for printing (and therefore any journalist is technically a ‘copy writer’) the term relates more strictly to situations where the text is of a promotional nature. The item being promoted can be practically anything – a person, product, idea, opinion or service – and the object of good quality copywriting is that the reader takes some form of action.

Copywriters are those schooled in the art and science of writing persuasive copy. In years gone by, writing jobs were mainly at large organisations such as advertising agencies or marketing companies, whereas these days there freelancing is commonplace.

Good copywriters are compelling storytellers, intelligent analysts and well-read and organised communicators with a passion for writing and the ability to explain any topic in a clear, concise way. Nothing anchors the persuasive experience more than words, and good copywriters have the ability to grab and keep the attention of readers and to incite action.

In this online age, copywriting has become ever more important. More and more writing jobs involve providing online content,

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from articles and reviews to product descriptions and homepage text. Many of the best 21st century copywriters are vastly experienced in writing web content which not only grabs a reader’s attention but also the attention of the major search engines. ‘Keywords’ and ‘search engine optimisation’ have become copywriting buzzwords and in an internet age it is foolish to ignore the importance of these copywriting techniques.

If you have services, goods, a person or an idea to promote, copywriting is essential. Your sales literature, direct mail letters and website all contain text designed to sell your business. Whilst you wouldn’t think twice about asking a professional to design your brochure or logo, many companies do not take the same level of care over who provides the more important aspect of their marketing – the words.

Subscribe to Nick Parkhouse to learn how to improve the effectiveness and quality of your writing.

Nick Parkhouse is a professional copywriter. He provides articles, copy, press releases and books and marketing material to a range of international clients. He also specialises in sports writing for a number of international sports companies as well property, politics and cinema writing.