Jason Williamson, poet laureate of Brexit Britain, offers his take on the folksy bank adverts airing on UK television screens this Christmas
We know, we know – it’s not clever to hate on adverts. But everyone knows that Nationwide’s ‘Voices’ poetry ads are the literal worst, a new nadir in the post-crash trend for banks to peddle a kind of folksy, ‘on-your-side’ image that is a slap in the face to long-suffering Brits everywhere. With their cheery onslaught of professional northerners, laptop wankers and twinkly-eyed dads spouting platitudinous verse in the name of personal finance, the ads come amid stagnating wage growth in the UK and a hyper-inflated housing market increasingly propped up by the Bank of Mum and Dad, whose combined lending power now rivals that of the UK’s biggest mortgage providers.
Also, they’ve got bad poetry in them. Who better to ponder their merits, then, than Jason Williamson, Sleaford Mods’ frontman and poet laureate of fear and loathing in austerity-era Britain? Sorry, did we say poet? “I view most adverts like a pizza menu coming through your door, you just lob it straight in the bin,” says Williams. “But as I kept watching these adverts the poetry was just killing me, and excuse me for swearing but I fucking hate that word. I might get shouted down for this but perhaps poetry is just a dated notion, in that rhythmical sense that these people put it across in, that kind of (does self-consciously ‘poetic’ cadences) ‘der-DER-der-der-derr’, it’s bollocks. So, yeah, they really got me.”
THE STIRRING, PATRIOTIC ODE
Jason Williamson: This is the one with the industrial revolution, isn’t it? I mean, how can she live with herself, do you know what I mean? It’s just disgusting. I felt like she was from a working-class background with the kind of provincial accent she has, or at least that was the idea I got. And it’s this idea that she’s achieved social mobility through saving her wages with the friendly banks of Nationwide. It’s got that whole ‘keep calm and carry on’ thing. It picks out the evils of capitalism – kind of ‘fortune favours the fortunate’, so to speak – and brushes it aside with this guy (Nationwide founder Charles Cooper) and the idea that he’s gonna look after your shit wages, like he looked after this woman’s shit wages. So yeah, it was really angering because it’s a load of bollocks really, an absolute load of bollocks.
ALLOTMENT LADY NURSING A DARK SECRET
Jason Williamson: This one is a little bit more softer, a bit more homely, a bit more ‘local’. I’ve written here ‘these are all clearly aimed at the bloodless masses’, and they all have that in common, for anyone to respond positively to these adverts would make me suspicious of that person. The key images in this are the tea cosy and the allotment. There’s the regional accents, the feeling that it will all come out in the wash, everything will be all right in the end. It’s the illusion that the bank knows your pain – the bank knows that you are depressed, it knows you’re lonely all the time, but if you can just pull through it’ll be there to look after your five pence, you know? Because the bank, too, feels this crushing reality, this horrible reality of nothingness, of the ongoing cycle of fucking absolutely no options, not anything credible anyway. That’s what I got from it, anyway.
She also keeps a cardboard cutout of her son in the house. What did you make of that?
She actually made it, did she? That’s fucking weird, that is. Does he live in the cupboard?
Jason Williamson: Again, fucking disgusting really. There’s no alcohol in sight, even though he’s clearly in a pub. It taps into that random-purchase thing that everyone suffers from occasionally, it’s aimed at quite a middle-class market. You’ve got this quite contemporary-looking guy – serious, in charge, he clearly knows what he’s doing by the way he’s looking at the laptop. Then he starts catastrophising about fuck-all – just whimsical, first-world problems. What I find interesting with this one is his t-shirt is the same colour as the guy’s behind him, it’s almost like the bank is backing up this idea of the drone human being. You know – ‘Look at the guy behind you, he’s in the same situation as you. You’re all worrying about money but we can sort that out for you.’ It kind of (underlines) this idea of conformity. I don’t know, I might be looking into it all too deeply. (laughs) Are these all actual poets as well?
I think this guy is a standup, but he dabbles in poetry too.
Jason Williamson: Right. It was fucking terrible. I mean, I kind of liked some of the, what is it, that Shakespearean dendatic perameter (sic) or whatever it is actors have to do to get that Shakespeare thing. There was a play-about with that on some of them and that, for a second, was slightly interesting. But apart from that, no.
Jason Williamson: I thought as well as being really annoying this one was very dated – you know, using the word ‘OMG’ to pull in a younger generation’s attention. It’s that cosy-austerity-of-yesterday, ignorance-is bliss thing that keeps falling out his gob – it just makes you so angry, because it’s the same ‘in my day’ type-stuff you’d think they’d have got rid of even in advertising by now. I just couldn’t understand the ice rink thing, you know – why was he in there? Bizarre. What the fuck was he doing in an ice rink on his own?
Maybe that’s why his son moved to New Zealand?
Jason Williamson: Oh right, OK, so he’s moved away has he?
Yeah, he Skypes him in the ad. It does make you wonder.
Jason Williamson: Haha. It’s all there in the advert was and I’m not even listening to it, am I? I’m so disgusted by the whole thing.
There’s a really great line where the son lists his own generation’s triumphs as ‘wifi, the internet and bandwidth’, which of course are all exactly the same thing.
Jason Williamson: That’s true, very true. You’ve obviously been at these a bit more than me.
KEEP IT MUM
Jason Williamson: I was put off by it instantaneously because it reminded me of Kate Tempest. I don’t wanna start slagging my peers as usual, it just really annoyed me. She has that same false sentiment and unconvincing delivery that Tempest has got, from my point of view anyway. I dunno, I just felt like it was patronising for some reason. She’s gonna be doing life insurance ads in 20 years, isn’t she? You can imagine it. She’s gonna be hosting fucking game shows, just another one of those people who would easily settle into the rigmarole of the entertainment system, be a cosy English face. I just wasn’t feeling it at all. I think if my mum had written that about me I’d have grown up feeling very alone.
She’s welling up, though.
Jason Williamson: Oh, is she? I didn’t notice that actually.
She’s on the brink of tears! What does this woman have to do to get you on side?
Jason Williamson: Jesus Christ, fucking hell. I’m a heartless bastard, I’m going. See you later!