The Great Nostalgia Theme: Banks and their Music

Nov 1, 2012   //   by Keith McDonald   //   Banking and Savings Accounts  //  4 Comments

How many of your favourite television adverts can you name? What is it that makes them memorable? Is it the emotion factor? The clever rhetoric? The sequence or narrative? The humour, perhaps?

What about the music?

Advertising guru David Ogilvy believes that music is only “emotional shorthand” and adds nothing to the selling power of commercials. I’m not so convinced, however – quite possibly because music played its part in selling a bank to me once upon a time.

I see his point that advertising agencies are unlikely to play background music when pitching to clients (though that’s hardly relevant to TV ads). And, granted, I don’t think music has quite the same influence today as it might once have had, purely because our modern digital culture is saturated with it. But I am convinced that identifying the right tune can really drive brand identification like little else.

Crockett's Theme

Can’t Fight this Feeling

As Al Allday, consummate expert in these matters, has pointed out, sometimes rational sales arguments aren’t enough. There’s also the emotional appeal to something within – generating a feeling surrounding the product or service.

Particular music choices can be the driving route to our memories and to this emotional connection between consumer and product. As a small example, we might take the advert for the Hotpoint Aqualtis, supported by the lush tones of Vangelis’ Ask the Mountain. Or else, Dustin Hoffman promoting Sky to the Cinematic Orchestra. While people are seeking out the track via the advert, it’s fulfilling a purpose.

The proliferation of digital media has meant that anyone wishing to identify the music knows to instinctively look out for the product, which they are then able to look up online as a first point of reference. Though they then often navigate onwards to the song, it’s reinstating the brand over and over again – the finest aide to memory.

And memory is all important in emotional attachment. Just over nine years ago, I moved to Bristol to embark upon life as an undergraduate. In a big city during prosperous times, there was no shortage of banks lining up with similar attractive offers: healthy overdrafts and cash incentives from £50-£100. As a nostalgia-driven individual (the ideal Don Draper victim) there was only ever one choice in mind: NatWest.

NatWest? Really?

Was I insane? Why did NatWest hold such monopolistic appeal? Believe it or not, it was because of the legacy that the advert music had left behind on me in prior years. (And I hope there will be some degree of unanimity in this verdict at least.)

One off the playlist was Jan Hammer’s atmospheric instrumental, Crockett’s Theme, which reached #2 in the UK singles chart in 1987 after featuring in the hit TV serial Miami Vice.

Following this, a late 70s classic: the lesser-known but highly endearing theme to the Littlest Hobo, ‘Maybe Tomorrow’, by Terry Bush, which featured in the advert for NatWest travel insurance. Away floats the animated dog in a round-the-world balloon trip, off on its adventures to the unknown.

It’s not just NatWest either. It was impossible not to remember Cheltenham & Gloucester’s luscious seascape advert featuring Cantilena by Adiemus and Karl Jenkins. (Often confused for the similar Cantus: Song of Tears). Note the length of time before the narrator speaks. It’s the colourful audio-visual experience that holds the attention incredibly well.

Clenching pearls. Hidden gems. Clutching straws, perhaps.

Grave Staves

As Al goes on to say, the choice between rational appeal and emotional appeal is hardly black and white.

Music doesn’t appeal to everyone. This particular music doesn’t appeal to everyone. Rational decisions come into play as we grow older. And, unfortunately, they become the sharpest tool in the box when you’re writing about banks for a living.

I’m distinctly unimpressed with NatWest today. It’s stealthily withdrawn a market-leading savings account without a word. Filer à l’anglaise, we might say.

So what we’ve got here is a rather obscure nostalgia-led example of how times have changed. We’ve heard lots recently about the hard-sell tactics employed by banks to push lucrative and risk-based products upon unsuspecting consumers. But these ads of the past are not driven by an appeal to rational judgement; they’re warming you to a brand. To coin a phrase, they want you for life, not just for Christmas.

It’s a shame that instincts have to change. Moreover, when we wonder why nostalgia grips us so, it’s a damned shame that times have to change as well.

Do you have any favourite musical memories from a bank or building society? Did it ever impact upon your choice? Drop me a note and let me know!


Any young readers interested in music, listen up! The HSBC MyMoney Competition is offering three young people aged 15-17 the chance to win an exclusive music experience worth up to £10,000. Participants need to create a 90-second video explaining how they would make their mark on the world of music.

What could you win?

  • A day in a top London recording studio, enjoying superstar treatment
  • A course in film-making to learn to create and shoot a music video
  • A night at a top West End Musical, with a chance to meet the cast

The competition will be hosted on Facebook (www.facebook.com/hsbcstudents), with entries to be submitted before midday on Tuesday 6th November. Participants need to be an HSBC MyMoney or Premier MyMoney account holder, but they have most of November (until 26th) to sign up if they want their video to be considered for the award.

Are you participating? Send us your videos and links. We’ll share them here and support you!
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  • David

    Thank you for this thoroughly nostalgic post.

    When a child watches an advert for a product or service of the grown-up world, they have the luxury of viewing it as pure entertainment and taking from it whatever they wish. So it is that we were free to absorb the music of these adverts and carry them with us, swapping the product to the background. A lack of past associations supports this process too: to this day, despite listening to Crockett’s Theme countless times, I haven’t seen a single episode of Miami Vice (though I did rather like Sesame Street’s Miami Mice sketches).

    If an advertiser is lucky, a song or instrumental will continue to fly a flag for the product in its viewers’ minds even when another advertiser tries to claim the music for themselves, decades later. So it is that for me, hearing Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s Our House in recent B&Q adverts has only served to evoke Halifax: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yFDRhsnestE