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Great post. I blogged recently on a very similar theme, so I can certainly relate to what you're saying here.

'Story' has been used to bless far less storylike content than this, but as you say, it still falls far short of what most people are looking for from a story. Therefore, it's unlikely to connect with people in the way that we hope stories will, because it leaves the audience emotionally shortchanged.

That's the danger of stretching the 'story' concept too thinly - you end up putting a tick in the 'story' box and assuming it's a short-cut to 'engagement', whereas a patronisingly thin story might end up alienating the audience.

In this case, I think dwelling on the past (the 'setup' of the story) ends up positioning the benefits being offered too remotely, so we end up with a sort of 'heritage'/'childhood' vibe that's far removed from the actual concerns of today's 'hardworking people' (Tory codeword!).

Also, as you say, the actual 'localness' has been lost, making the payoff line feel only marginally relevant. There might have been a much better story to tell about someone in the present who got crap service from one of the big banks, perhaps because of some issue closely related to where she lived or worked, and then did better with the TSB because they understood. Of course, that might have been a made-up story, but the best stories always are.

It's all part of a wider trend towards banks coming across as all cute and cuddly – Lloyds are currently doing the same with their 'Because [x] matters' campaign. Only First Direct seem to be gunning for genuine differentiation at the moment.

Nick Asbury

Thanks Tom, your post must have been somewhere at the back of my mind when I was writing this.

For anyone who hasn't seen it, it's well worth a read: http://www.abccopywriting.com/2013/07/22/what-is-brand-storytelling

Particularly agree with: "The idea of ‘story’ is merely being enlisted to give the enterprise a human resonance it doesn’t really have."

I think this is the key to why brands find the idea of 'stories' so appealing. Tell people you're about to show them an advert or read out a sales pitch and they'll immediately adopt a sceptical/critical state of mind. Tell people you're going to tell them a 'story' and, at least on a subconscious level, they'll adopt a more open, receptive, child-like attitude - at least, that's what marketers hope.

I'd link it to the culture of infantilisation that is so obvious in the way brands write these days.

But like you, I'm not down on the idea of 'stories' in general - they are obviously a powerful thing. Rather than striving for a single brand 'story', I think it might be more useful for brands to build up a bank of stories (what we'd call 'case studies' in the old days) that all reflect on their brand in some way, without trying to say everything at once.


Thanks for replying, Nick. I think what we might see soon is a sort of 'storytelling fatigue'.

Stories are important, but listening to a story is a privileged activity that's assigned to special times of day ('story time' at school, bedtime, going to the cinema as an adult) for a reason.

We don't necessarily want to hear stories all the time. They are tools for us to understand the rest of our experience. We hear them, internalise them, and take them out into the world as mental models to explain or rationalise what happens to us. But there's only so much learning like that you can do in one day.

If every brand tries to occupy the privileged position occupied by story (at least in childhood), story will lose its power as a differentiator, just as the 'friendly' tone is arguably doing right now. Only genuinely compelling stories will cut through, and the truly forward-thinking brands will be doing whatever comes next.

I'm really hoping that doesn't turn out to be creating what @afynou calls 'shockverts' - deliberately controversial ads that are so far mainly seen online.


Surely that bloody meerkat is the worst offender. It seems to have long since stopped being an advertising campaign and is now firmly in the realm of fantasy/surrealism.

Andrew Ley

I love the passive voice in the last few lines.

All this time I assumed TSB had obsessed over profit margins and pleasing their shareholders. Foolishy I thought that they had thrown those values out and forgotten all about them.

Instead it appears those mischievous litte ideals hid away, in an odd metaphysical game of hide and seek, just "waiting to be found".

I stand corrected.

Nick Asbury

That's a good point about the passive voice.

It's interesting how, as well as moving from active to passive, the writing also moves gradually from specific to abstract. We start out with a specific person ('Henry Duncan') doing a specific thing ('built a bank') at a specific time ('In 1810') – and end up with an abstraction ('values') passively 'waiting to be found' after some 'turbulent times'.

You can see a direct relationship – the more deceptive/strained the writing gets, the more the abstract nouns and passive voice take over. Probably a useful measure for other ads as well.


This is a great post, right on the money. Although I would not be as kind as you: I find this "story" almost offensive in the way it makes a hero of a brand icon that's long since passed and skips over the hundred years of destroying his legacy that arguably better defines the sector as a whole and TSB as a specific (as they were sold out for profit and wound up into a larger bank).
It's disingenuous at best and at worst it treats consumers like imbeciles who the agency and the client obviously think will swallow any story, no matter how old and disconnected from the brand.
If they truly believed in the ideals of their founder, a story that ended in evidence of them believing acting in the same way today would be more appropriate, wouldn't it? Shouldn't the brand live its ideals, not just tell stories about its (supposed) ideals?

Nick Asbury

Hi Aaron – can't argue with any of that. I was deliberately being generous as I think it's a well-made ad – beautifully animated. I also have some sympathy for whoever wrote it – if your brief is to spin a positive story from the LloydsTSB mess, then it's a valiant if doomed attempt.

But, of course, fundamentally it's taking people for fools and stopping just short of outright deception.

I'd love to see a study of all bank advertising since 2008. What fascinates me is the way that, even when they know deep down it's time to show some humility and restraint, they just can't help casting themselves as heroes. There was a great strategic opportunity for a big bank to show itself seriously grappling with the lessons of the crash - 'we've thought hard, and we've changed and this is how'. But no, it's all just surface gloss and vague nods towards 'helpful banking'. Back to business-as-usual, and branding-as-usual.

Annette Simmons

Stephen King turned me off of passive voice forever in "On Writing" when he likened it to a lover without confidence. Yuck! And yes, let's hear more about the storms!

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