After the cascade of advertising in the build up to Christmas, one would imagine the ordinary TV viewer, newspaper reader or radio listener is exhausted. With the post-Christmas sales reaching their conclusion, our TV screens are dominated by airlines promising sunshine and the distant vision of summer.
Enter The Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation, now known as HSBC. The Chinese-founded, British-headquartered bank has courted controversy for its latest advertising campaign, which is a not-too-subtle advocate for the European Union.
Whilst not an entirely new campaign – awkward comedian Richard Ayoade has fronted television and radio adverts for months – the bank and its advertising agency JWT hit the headlines this week with a number of locally tailored posters highlighting certain cities’ contributions to culture and a reminder that they are part of a global fabric. Local versions are running in London, Manchester, Leeds and Birmingham.
Backlash was swift, with political commentator Tim Montgomerie scathing, focusing on HSBC’s role in the financial crisis which arguably lay the roots for Brexit. Many praised the bank however, calling its ‘brave’, whilst a non-scientific glance at social media suggests active users are mostly positive.
In many senses, the advert has proved to be a huge success – it has been covered by major news outlets and trended on Twitter, giving the bank far greater reach than they would have originally paid for. It’s hard to say whether a significant amount of people are so pro-Brexit that they would refuse to bank with the firm because of the adverts, and it might help sway some people thinking of switching their current accounts to choose a bank in line with their own values.
It all begs the question – should companies utilise politics as part of their PR, marketing and advertising strategies?
It could prove to be a very smart move by HSBC. Millennials, particularly city-based millennials, are the demographic most strongly in favour of Remain. Win these customers now, and they may stay with HSBC for life; a 25 year old could have 75 years of banking left. A cynic may say that the demographic more in favour of Brexit – the older generation – do not have such a long time to boost the bank’s profits.