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Nationwide ad starring Dominic West is ‘misleading’, watchdog says

Dominic West stars in Nationwide's latest ad campaign (Nationwide)
Dominic West stars in Nationwide's latest ad campaign (Nationwide)

The ads watchdog has banned an advertisement from building society Nationwide - in which Dominic West portrays a greedy banking boss - as it ruled the UK’s top building society was “misleading” about branch closures.

The advertisement attracted 282 complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), likely enough to make it one of the top-10 most-complained-about adverts of 2024, including a complaint from high-street bank Santander.

In the television version, The Crown star West plays the boss of a high-street bank who suggests closing a branch as part of a series of “cutbacks”, and acts indifferent to the concerns of customers who may have “lost their life savings”.

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“We’re not Nationwide are we, we’re nothing like them,” West’s character  says in the ad.

A voiceover then says that “unlike the big banks” - which are listed on-screen as Halifax, Lloyds, HSBC, Barclays, Santander and Natwest - Nationwide is “not closing” branches. Text on screen said the branch promise was “valid until 2026”.

The complaints against the ad mostly focused on whether the claim that Nationwide is not closing bank branches was misleading, with many complainants noting that the building society “had recently closed or reduced opening hours at a number of branches”.  Santander also noted that it had closed fewer branches than Nationwide  in the 12 months before the ad aired.

Nationwide argued that its use of the present tense in the ad suggested that it was about future closures - from between the date of the broadcast and 2026 - not past ones. It said its most recent closure, in April 2023, was far enough in the past that customers would not believe the ads were misleading.

On reduced opening house, Nationwide said the impact of any changes it had made to branch hours had been “minimal”, but also noted that the claims in the ad “were not promises to maintain branch opening hours”.

But the ASA upheld the complaints.

The watchdog said: “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.”

The ad may  not appear again in its current form, and Nationwide was warned “not to mislead” on branch closures again.

Earlier this year, Nationwide launched another ad featuring West’s bank boss character. In the more  recent ad, West responds to a customer satisfaction survey by noting “it’s the shareholders we need to keep happy, but we can’t lose too many customers”.