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Nationwide branch ads starring Dominic West banned by watchdog as misleading

The first of two TV ads, the second of which has not been banned, sees West play a fictional bank boss planning a branch closure
The first of two TV ads, the second of which has not been banned, sees West play a fictional bank boss planning a branch closure

Adverts for Nationwide starring actor Dominic West have been banned by the advertising regulator in their current form for misleading consumers that the lender would not close branches like its rivals.

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) launched an investigation into the television, radio and press ads after hearing from 281 complainants, including rival high street lender Santander.

A Santander spokesperson told City A.M. that it judged Nationwide’s campaign “was misleading to customers”. The bank understood that Nationwide had recently closed or reduced opening hours at a number of branches.

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In the TV ad that aired last October and November, West plays the role of a fictional bank boss at “A.N.Y. BANK”, mocking customers, expensing a lavish company lunch and planning a branch closure.

After seeing a Nationwide building across the street and a colleague noting that it was not closing its branch, West’s character says: “We’re not Nationwide, are we? We’re nothing like them.”

The advert ends with a voiceover saying: “Unlike the big banks, we’re not closing our branches,” while on-screen text reads: “Publicly shared branch closures at Lloyds, Bank of Scotland/Halifax, Natwest, Barclays, Santander and HSBC.”

West is known for playing roles including Jimmy McNulty in The Wire and Prince Charles in The Crown.

The radio and print ads feature similar lines on Nationwide keeping its branches open in contrast to “the big banks”.

The ads refer to the lender’s “Branch Promise”, which it originally launched in 2019 as a pledge not to leave a town or city where there was no other Nationwide branch.

The building society strengthened the promise last year to guarantee it would not close any of its branches until at least 2026, barring circumstances “outside of our control”.

The ASA said viewers were likely to miss qualifications within two of the ads that the pledge would be in place until “at least 2026”.

After striking a £2.9bn takeover deal with Virgin Money last month, Nationwide announced it would extend its “Branch Promise” to the start of 2028.

Nationwide told the ASA it had closed 20 branches in the last 18 months, including two in 2023, within the exclusions listed in its original promise.

It also shared an article from Which? recommending Nationwide as a building society for customers who still valued face-to-face contact.

The ASA said: “We acknowledged that over a 10-year period, in comparison to other financial institutions, Nationwide had closed the smallest percentage of any financial institution’s estate.

“However, we noted that they had nevertheless closed 20 per cent of their estate, which equated to 152 branches, and we considered that was a significant number that had been permanently closed.”

The watchdog understood that in the year before the ad campaign launched, Santander had closed fewer branches than Nationwide, and Santander had not recently announced any branch closures when it first saw Nationwide’s ads.

The ASA added: “Because we considered that 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.”

It concluded: “The ad must not appear again in their current form. We told Nationwide Building Society not to mislead in relation to the closure of their branches.”

A Nationwide spokesperson said: “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.”

The Santander spokesperson said the bank was “content with the ruling from the ASA”.

City A.M. understands that Nationwide has, from Wednesday, updated the wording of its “Branch Promise” ads to reflect the 2028 pledge.

A second TV ad starring West that Nationwide released in February to promote its SavingsWatch product is not subject to the ASA’s ruling. It sees West’s character dismiss customer complaints in favour of shareholders and does not mention branch closures.