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Nationwide ‘not closing branches’ ad banned as misleading

A Nationwide advert featuring actor The Crown actor Dominic West that claimed the building society was not closing branches has been banned after the Advertising Standards Authority concluded that it was, in fact, closing branches.

ASA also said the ad did not make it clear enough that a Nationwide promise not to close any more would end in 2026.

One of the complaints against the ads had been made by Santander, which was referenced in the ads, but said it had closed fewer branches than Nationwide in the year before the ad campaign.

Customers probably don’t need ASA to tell them that banks have been closing branches for several years, with only around half the number of high street banks today as there were in the 1980s.

Branch closures were accused of hitting groups including the old, disabled and rural dwellers particularly hard in a recent House of Lords report.

The Nationwide campaign, featuring West as the boss of a fictional big bank, was part of a wider, extensive rebrand for Nationwide late last year supported at roll out in October by Leeds agency Hatch. The TV ad and wider campaign was backed by the slogan “Unlike the big banks we’re not closing our branches,” while other campaign materials featured straplines like “Going, Going nowhere.”

The ads also highlighted branch closures by rivals including Lloyds Banking Group, which includes Bank of Scotland and Halifax, Natwest, Barclays, Santander and HSBC.

The ads had 281 complainants, including the one from Santander, which said that Nationwide had recently closed or reduced opening hours at a number of branches, and challenged whether the ads were misleading.

Santander, which closed six branches in 2023, pointed out that Nationwide had closed two branches in 2023 and a further 14 in the 12 months prior to the campaign.

Over a 10-year period, Nationwide closed 152, or 20% of its branches. Although this was a smaller percentage than some of the competitors it called out in its ads, it was still a “significant number,” ASA said.

In addition, Nationwide made a “branch promise” in 2019 not to leave a town or city where there is a branch, unless there are “circumstances outside of our control”. The building society updated this in 2023, committing to not close any branches until at least 2026. It then extended that until 2028.

ASA found the ads had not made it clear enough that this promise was potentially only short term. It added: “Consumers would understand from the ads that Nationwide would not be closing branches in the long-term future and that they had not recently closed branches; we concluded that the ads were misleading.”

In its defence, Nationwide noted that its most recent branch closure had been in April 2023, six months before the advertising campaign started, and therefore it did not believe the adverts were misleading.

A Nationwide spokesman told Prolific North: “We recognise the ASA’s decision and are delighted to have the opportunity to make even clearer our now extended branch promise to keep every branch open until the start of 2028. The investment we have made to keep branches open means we now have more than any other brand and are the last one standing in more than 90 communities.”

ASA’s ruling concluded that the TV ads “must not appear again in their current form.”

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