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Natwest: Above the line or internal comms?

Sometimes advertising is about selling.
Sometimes it is about being desirable.
Occasionally it tries to educate you.

Recently, in more troubling economic conditions it has also been about something else.

In the case of Natwest it’s about reigniting belief.




Making the people that work for you (employees), and the people responsible for your fortunes (shareholders) believe again in what you are doing.




That’s how many people Natwest employ in the UK. (Quite a lot)




That’s how much the British public still own of RBS (the holding company of Natwest) as the biggest single stakeholder. (Quite a lot)

So when RBS announced in September 2016 that they would re-brand all English RBS branches as Natwest the intention was clear.

Divorce in order to rise phoenix like from the ashes.
The kind where you pretend the other toxic person you had the misfortune of marrying had never existed.

Which brings us to the 2016 Natwest communication campaign.

“We are what we do.”



With divorce comes introspection.
With introspection comes a need to reinvent oneself.

For those that enjoy self-flagellation and care to peruse Twitter, you will not be rewarded with kind words but a barrage of abuse towards the new campaign.

The ad has been universally derided.
But I think this derision is a bit unfair.

If we look back to the Lloyds campaign from earlier in the year, we have an interesting point of comparison.



Lloyds attempts to pull similarly emotive strings but the perspective is markedly different.

In Natwest the most used word is ‘we’.

In Lloyds it is ‘your’.

And here’s the rub.

The Lloyds ATL is about selling. It is directly addressing you and I.
And to do that, they talk to us about our lives.
Our births and deaths our marriages and business plans.

Recognisable enough to be a grand narrative we can all relate to, intimate enough for us to feel like they don’t just get everyone, but that they know me as an individual.

Contrast this with Natwest and we have a distinctly different approach.

Read the script through to the last few lines and we have a clear message:


“We are responsible and responsible.
We are all what we have done, and what we will do.

So we all have a duty to do the right thing.
We are no different. We are what we do”


Never has a collective ‘we’ been so focused introspectively on the brand.
This is a narrative so grand that little old me the consumer is nowhere to be seen.

But maybe that is the point.

RBS is laden with challenges.

The idea to refocus around the Natwest brand makes an awful lot of sense.

But can you imagine what it must be like to work in these places?
If you’ve been through the mill of working for RBS and are now spirited into the Natwest business? Not to mention that little outstanding matter of the 73% of RBS which is still owned by you and me.


Which is where internal comms comes in.


That mini-fist pump feeling at the national convention.
The tear in the eye of the chairperson in that board meeting presentation.
The whispered ‘you’ve got this’ when the chips are down.

It’s what every troubled brand needs.
The tribalism to inspire an organisation to change starts from the top and it can start with something as simple as an ad.

Natwest’s “We are what we do” campaign may not be anyone outside of the organization’s cup of tea. But we are what we do is a battle cry not a sales pitch.

Tash Walker

Tash Walker

I founded this business not out of passion but out of curiosity. Marketing is dominated by opinion, the opinion of a few Vs. the life experiences of the many. I wanted to know, where the hell was real life in all of this? I do all of this because it is fascinating, because I was told you couldn’t and because I think it is the most important question we have to understand about our society today.

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