The Happiness of the Working Poor

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The British banking giant Halifax has launched a new advertising campaign which depicts ordinary people such as this hardware store sales assistant called Linda Turner. In a widely televised ad, Linda is depicted as a cheery person who likes to help others who come into the hardware store: she feeds water to a dog, she happily polishes a lamp while showing a customer the way, she even saves a pram from tipping over. Linda has a propensity towards making things fit: in one short segment she cuts down pieces of wood so that a customer can fit it into his car. Job done. In short, Linda is a heroine of the everyday whose actions make a better and even a more happy society.

Halifax – Linda Turner from Steve Wioland on Vimeo.

Halifax – Linda Turner, directed by Mike Long, Agency: adam&eveDDB

The ad runs under the slogan ‘the people who give you extra’. The slogan implies that for those people who give extra in they day to day routine, Halifax is also willing to give their customers something extra. More specifically, when Jane visits her local Halifax branch towards the end of the ad, she inquires about a £100 bonus for signing up with the bank. The message here is simple, hard working people like Jane deserve a little break and Halifax is there to provide it. Imagine, £100, or the equivalent of roughly $160, just to sign up with a new bank?

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Halifax, formerly known for its over the top faux musical ads featuring a guy called Howard, has obviously entered into a new phase in their marketing. In 2008 Howard was unceremoniously dumped because he was considered to be too ‘jolly’ for a recession. Rather than shouting from the rooftop with noisy (as well as expensive) campaigns, in this short film the bank suggests it has sympathy for those who work hard and who remain optimistic while doing so. Even though she puts in long hours in the hardware store, for Linda life is just great. She is so pleased to work in a hardware store and make other people happy.


Andrew Willis, Skatepark Engineer, Google Stories

Halifax is not alone in glorifying and romanticising a new class of working people on the bottom of the income scale. Google has launched an equally ill-fitting campaign in which it talks about an engineer who sacrificed his career to become a volunteer skatepark designer. How does he survive? How does he get paid? While the ad implies that the sheer act of doing good is rewarding, it does not explain how the skateboard park engineer actually pays his bills. The Halifax ad is worse because it patronises the consumer by trying to make him or her believe that it values those who work hard and earn little.

The economic climate in which this ad has been released could not have been worse. A recent study by The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has revealed that of the 13 million people classified as living in poverty in the United Kingdom most come from working families – people who are working in low-income jobs like Linda Turner. This growing demographic of working poor is historically not necessarily from a working class background as more and more people overburden themselves with debt and slide down the economic ladder. On top of that, living standards drop to the lowest levels in a decade while savings incurred the biggest drop in 40 years. All this does not forebode well for a ‘recovery’ and the picture of happiness that banks such as Halifax want to communicate.

Halifax – Mark Watts from Matt Woolner on Vimeo.

Halifax – Mark Watts, directed by Mike Long, Agency: adam&eveDDB

In the new charm offensive by the bank, another ad features a hardworking primary school football coach called Mark Watts who is warmly welcomed into a local Halifax branch. The message her too is simple: Mark provides a social good to society and the bank values that and treats Mark well in return. In a time of unprecedented mistrust even anger towards the banking system, Halifax clearly seeks to rebuild their relationship with their customers. Yet the truth of the matter is that these ads are far more untruthful and therefore also far more offending than previous attempts to charm the British public. No hardware store assistant or primary school football coach will receive any good treatment from their bank purely because they do their job with pride.

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Yet as offending these ads might be in their crass attempt to establish some sort of feel good factor, they also point to an ugly reality of a new economic order and that is the working poor’s dependency on credit and therefore also the working poor’s dependency on a functioning banking system. The hidden charges, the credit interest rates or the overdraft penalties are of course not disclosed in the ad. Instead, the ads try to suggest that inasmuch society should be grateful for the Linda Turners in this world, Linda Turner, too, should be grateful to perform low-paid and menial labour. The Halifax ad clearly alludes to a trick commonly found in late capitalist societies: it suggests that even though the worker suffers under a system that provides her with little pay and little prospect for the future, she should still be grateful to participate in this very system. As long as this status quo is upheld, banks such as Halifax will continue to profit and finance ad campaigns that will seek to reinforce it.

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