Abbey’s second rebrand

I’d hate to work for Abbey. Eighteen months ago, they made a bold step in differentiating themselves from the other high street banks.

The agency they employed to carry out the reband said of it:

Wolff Olins has helped Abbey National reinvent itself. From now on, Abbey is no longer just another of the big six British banks – it’s something different: a company whose purpose is to help everyone get on top of money. The new Abbey was launched on 24 September [2003], with the message that “Abbey is turning banking on its head”.

Agency fluff aside, the new Abbey was about making money less scarey, without the faux-chumminess and slight smugness of Egg. This wasn’t just a name/logo change but was carried through in the language the staff used and the products on offer.

Although the “Me and my money” ads were a little creepy – people going about their lives with a miniature version of themselves, which represented their money – the advertising was creative and instantly recognisable. It was fresh, optimistic and rooted in situations that ordinary people could identify with.

Sadly, in the past week or so, Abbey’s controversial new Spanish owner – Banco Santander Centro Hispano (BSCH) – has thrown all of that out. A £3 million advertising campaign has been launched to support possibly the worst re-branding decision I’ve seen by a household name. Forget the Post Office’s change to Consignia, then to Royal Mail, as that had no effect on the bulk of the service’s users; it was a corporate, mainly overseas thing.

This is a move that replaces a contemporary, relevant and differentiating brand with one that makes the old Lloyds Bank look dynamic. Take a look at the Abbey website, you’ll see what I mean. There are no prizes for guessing that both the colourscheme and logo are in fact that of BCSH. The colours, logo and typeface are from another era and, in the words of one of my colleagues, “look like something a small town accountant might think was really groovy in about 1970″.

It all puts me in my place. The Abbey of recent times was about breaking down barriers; the new Abbey branding tells me to think I need them more than they need me. BCSH’s slogan is “Value from ideas” but the only idea I see in this reband is corporate egotism.

The billboard ads that have been designed to launch the rebrand show all the creativity of a bored teenager who’s rushed their GCSE Business Studies homework. Picture it: photo of woman with pensive look, thought bubbles coming out of her head, main bubble reads, “Are you thinking about changing your mortgage?”, or something similar. Man, if I’d suggested that at work I’d be laughed out of the place.

Lord knows how the BCSH branding will be expressed throughout the rest of the bank. If it’s consistent with the logo etc, I really can’t see it working in the UK.