A grim sight met my gaze on page 37 of this morning’s Times. It was a business banking ad for Lloyds TSB, and like most business banking ads it fell well short of mediocrity.
I probably ought to scan in a copy, but honestly you don’t care. If you can be bothered, just imagine, briefly, a 25×4 ad with a picture of a bloke in ear defenders doing something in a factory, and a headline that says FLEXIBLE FINANCE SOLUTIONS TO MEET THE DEMANDS OF YOUR BUSINESS, and about 100 words of dreary copy and a logo. That’s it. You’ve got it.
Given that, as I say, this ad is no better and no worse than the large majority of business banking ads, why am I so depressed by the sight of it? Simply because its very existence proves the final and I fear permanent destruction of the great Ted Ettershank’s business-within-a-business, almost bank-within-a-bank, the mad, impossible, surprisingly long-lasting Independent Republic of Lloyds TSB Commercial Finance.
Ted had run this business – which he would be incensed to hear you describe as a factoring specialist – for many years and under many different ownerships. Whoever was nominally in charge, Ted ran it as an independent state – and, over the years, continued to make enough money that no-one was ever quite brave enough to try to drag him into the corporate fold. He maintained exactly the same stance when Lloyds TSB snapped the business up (and merged it with another, the former Alex Lawrie Factors). From separate offices in Richmond and Banbury, Ted carried on ignoring and rejecting almost every initiative and requirement emanating from the corporate centre.
None more so than those to do with marketing and communication. Ted despised this whole area both in principle and in practice. Most of all, he recognised – rightly – that if he signed up to the Group-wide approach and was allocated to one of the central team’s relationship managers and one of their giant roster agencies, he would get a useless service. He would be a very small pimple on the Group marketing and communications bum – a tiresome, complicated, low-spending corner of the business which would be pushed down to the dullest people on the team with instructions to get their stupid boring advertising done as quickly and profitably as possible.
Instead, he appointed us. And we worked about ten times harder and ten times smarter than any Group roster agency would have done. (That’s not because we were wonderful people – it was just because, as a smaller agency specialising in financial services, we were really quite excited about having his business, and didn’t think of it as a tiresome chore that we had to get out of the way before getting back to some consumer stuff.)
He had asked us for an integrated idea which could be extended across advertising, direct marketing and, crucially, their most important marketing activity, hospitality. We came up with an idea based around a national student art competition, which would offer hospitality opportunities at eight regional heats and a national final – and provide us with a fresh, engaging and pleasingly low-cost source of artwork for use in a case-study based advertising and direct marketing approach. I’m not saying it was the greatest thing ever, but we worked really hard on it, and the does-what-it-says-on-the-paint-tin advisers Arts In Business worked really hard on organising the competition, and over a period of five or six years the whole thing did really well for them.
Ted actually retired three years or so ago, exhausted, I think, by the pressures of defending his territory against the endless attempted incursions of the mighty parent. The wheels didn’t immediately fall off. Ted’s replacement, Simon Featherstone, and his Head of Marketing, the delightful Ian Byers, took up as best they could where Ted had left off. But Ian also retired, and after that …well, I left the agency, so I don’t really know how the tale then unfolded, but I can see the eventual outcome in that grim, vacuous, generic, utterly humdrum ad in the Times this morning.
As I’ve said many times, I don’t really know what the economies of scale are, but whatever they are they must be extremely powerful, because the diseconomies and disadvantages are so huge and so obvious. This stupid bloke in the ear defenders and the headline which is just the proposition from the creative brief set in the Lloyds TSB typeface isn’t an ad at all. No-one has cared about it. No skill or wit or craft or flair has gone into it. And no-one except a Group compliance manager will ever read it, which may be just as well because in the first line it commits the cardinal sin of describing Lloyds TSB Commercial Finance in the plural, not the singular (LTSBCF “have” a range, not “has”).
Oh well. All good things must come to an end. I loved working for Ted’s Independent Republic, but all those most closely involved with it are all gone now – myself, of course, included.
I hope Ted is happily enjoying a well-deserved retirement. And I hope he doesn’t see page 37 of today’s Times.