HSBC you’re not for ME

3 May

I recently made a trip to France and, along the way, posted on any and all available surfaces of the airports in Victoria, Vancouver, London, and Nice were ads for HSBC.

HSBC gets full applause for their media buy. The frequency of their ads was tremendously high and the placement perfect for their corporate emphasis on personalized global service.

But that’s where the fan fare ends.

Each of their ads state some bold fact about the world and then remark that “The world belongs to those who see potential”

I found the facts to be interesting, but what really bothered me was their presumed correlation between A and Z. Still now, I can’t honestly see how the two parts of their ads relate to each other.

What potential lies in the fact that only 4% of American films are produced by woman compared to 25% in Iran?

This is an idea that to me fell flat. An idea that makes sense to someone in a boardroom- someone who already knows the answer. Unlike ad agencies and companies alike, consumers don’t know a company inside and out. They can’t recite a company’s corporate mission statement or regurgitate the brand promise.  Each ad therefore has to able to stand on its own.  

Ads should make you think and leave you wanting more. They definitely shouldn’t leave you confused.

Ads have to be intriguing but they also have to pay off- Make you laugh, show you a solution, or move you emotionally. These ads just left me scratching my head.


6 Responses to “HSBC you’re not for ME”

  1. Reg Krake May 3, 2011 at 1:08 pm #

    Hi Andrea,

    Allow me to take the contrarian view — I think the campaign IS useful and good, and although audience is perhaps not immediately obvious, it is key to what I think the campaign is about. From your photos and descriptions, it looks like it is a B2B campaign, not a B2C campaign, i.e. probably a consumer WOULD be confused — or disinterested — by the message. I think the location for the campaign actually reinforces my hunch, i.e. airports are a smart targeting locale for an international B2B message, and the ubiquity of HSBC’s placement seems part of the strategy.

    As such, some of the messages are not as mysterious to me — I think they’re using a combination of surprise (e.g. Iran seems more ‘progressive’ than the US in terms of female filmmakers is a fact they’ve undoubtedly researched) coupled with (I think) the goal of igniting a businessperson’s curiosity that there may be opportunity in, e.g. supporting women filmmakers in the US, or an HR professional or recruiting firm being motivated to consider the ramifications of international hires (from the other ad sample you posted), etc. Whether or not those two ideas are specific to your business, I think a businessperson could still glean the takeaway of what I think is HSBC’s strategy.

    The underpinning strategy? I’m guessing that between their ubiquity and their international knowledge, HSBC wants to own the message, as “The World’s Bank”, that they’re a smart partner to work with in considering global business opportunities — as they “think locally, act globally”, or some such notion.

    Just a guess as to strategy, but in any case I actually like the campaign, and think it is consistent with their brand and overall positioning.

    Thanks for the thought-provoking post.

  2. Amy May 3, 2011 at 1:08 pm #

    This ad is offensive towards the women of Iran, or perhaps just Iran. It’s as though we shouldn’t expect Iranian women to make films or have potential. Are they also suggesting that the viewer should find potential within them? Thus, identifying themselves as an “unexpected place”? It’s not only an unclear message, but just plain bad.

  3. andmerson May 4, 2011 at 9:38 am #

    Reg- Thanks for the insightful comment. I always love to receive counter arguments.

    I agree with you about their underlying strategy. Their tag line is “ The world’s local bank” which is the precise strategy of global localization or “think locally, act globally”. This is the same strategy that McDonalds is so well known for.

    I believe, however, that this strategy is alone supported by the use of the facts. The preciseness of the facts shows evidence of HSBC’s regional knowledge and the near countless versions of the ad represents their encompassing global perspective. If HSBC has a global localization strategy, I agree that as a business person I would feel comfortable working with them for global projects.

    It’s the second half of the ad that goes off track- and where I would push back.

    They promote that any of these facts represent potentially untapped opportunities, which is arguably true for any company but themselves. There is no direct correlation between these facts and the unexpected potential that HSBC says it seeks. Are they more adept than other banks at hedging against international market fluctuations? Are they more likely to provide loans to high risk ventures? That’s the story I want to hear. Because, as a business person, HSBC is pushing empty claims if they aren’t.

    I would have liked to see an ad that showcased a customer who actually found potential in an unexpected place and see how HSBC supported them. Otherwise, I still don’t think the two parts of the ads relate well to each other.

    Amy- And Amy brings up a great point too. One of the first lessons in international business is cultural diversity. What’s unexpected to some culturally can be completely normal to others. By comparing these two cultural facts and then saying there is unexpected potential, HSBC is saying one culture could be improved- A pretty touchy subject especially for a company who claims to understand cultural diversity

  4. Reg Krake May 4, 2011 at 11:05 am #

    Good points, Andrea — thanks for the reply. I think you’re on to something by suggesting a good example for a deeper story they could leverage, but as an awareness campaign for busy travellers hustling through airports, I think the short, simple message strategy there is appropriate to ‘plant the seed’ — more payoff opportunity could perhaps be provided via a URL or QR code, etc., e.g. “Want to hear more unexpected stories and how HSBC helped?” (okay disclaimer — clearly I’m not a copywriter — apologies) and provide a quick link/QR to those interested. This would allow them to do just what you suggest in showing examples of how they’ve done this successfully in, say, surprising or high-risk situations.

    They don’t directly answer your questions, but perhaps they could do that beyond the ads (or perhaps they couldn’t) — but by planting that seed, perhaps they hope to at least land on the consideration list when businesses are looking for such opportunities — and that may be the goal for this awareness campaign that other, deeper campaigns, the website, branch and business managers, could potentially go deeper with — i.e. ideally these ads could be part of a larger integrated campaign.

  5. andmerson May 4, 2011 at 12:31 pm #

    Spot on Reg.

    If i saw “Want to hear more unexpected stories and how HSBC helped?” ( you are better than you think)..i would

    A) instantly find credibility in the quick claims they made because i know they could back it up

    B) Most likely click through, using the smart phone i had in my hand anyways because it had my boarding pass on it.

    Their ads definitely plant a seed and increase awareness ( although really in part because the ads are everywhere) but you’re right they have huge opportunity to go deeper. You may be rushing at times when traveling, but from recent experience, there is a lot of down time!

    Oh look- I think we just found potential in an unexpected place 🙂

  6. Mario Parise May 6, 2011 at 9:22 am #

    re: Offensive

    Is it offensive? I don’t think so. Not the way I took it, anyway. I took it as pointing out the limits of out prejudice. I took it as: “We may think of ourselves as leaders in equal opportunity, and that Iran is backwards, but open your eyes. Stop being so closed minded. There’s more to the world than what you see on CNN.”

    Is it just me?

    re: Marketing Strategy

    I’m not sure if the concept makes much sense, unless HSBC is investing in films by Iranian women. If the point is that HSBC see what most of us miss, and are using that skill to find sound investment opportunities, that’s cool. But I somehow don’t think they’re investing in these movies.

    So in that sense I think there’s a disconnect here.

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