HSBC's TV Commercial

Here is a link to HSBC’s spot on Youtube:-

At the end of the film this message appears: “We recognize how people value things differently. So what we learn from one customer helps us better serve another.”

Apart from the TV ad, which is part of a global advertising campaign that began in September, HSBC has also just splashed out US$1.6 million on full-page ads in the entire October 27 issue of the New York magazine. Both the TV ad and the wholesale magazine ad purchase appear to aim at grabbing a larger U.S. market share at a time when many U.S. banks are struggling to stay afloat. Some (HSBC included) see this as astute in terms of timing, others do not. Reaction to the spot itself is just as mixed (note comments on the video clip), but the slant is that it is hard for viewers to link the ad to banking.

Here are some of the responses to the TV ad and/or the “different values” campaign theme:-

“Given the recent turmoil in the banking industry, one could see it as a case of bad timing. Is the American public really in the mood for an aggressive marketing pitch from a bank right now?”

- Douglas Quenqua, New York Times

“Forgive me for asking so crass a question about such a poignant tale—but does any of this make you want to open a money-market account at HSBC? Headquartered in London, HSBC is the largest European bank and is a major player in Asia, where it got its start. (HSBC is short for Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation.) While no bank will emerge from the global financial crisis unscathed, HSBC has weathered the storm far better than most. (Among other things, the bank is in the habit of keeping more deposits than loans on its books—fancy that.) Which raises another question: At a moment when many Americans are suffering financial shell shock, does it make sense to build your brand around an unsettling clash between policemen and protesters? Wouldn't it be better to talk about your bank's 140-year history, its 100 million customers worldwide, its $1 trillion (and change) in deposits?”

- John Swasnburg, Slate

“As a little piece of film with an interesting story line, the TV commercial is gorgeous, but it also has a major disconnect. It opens on a scene in what would seem to be the Pacific Northwest, where uniformed police are running after protesters who've shown up in a wooded area to stop the logging trade. There's one shot of an older guy getting arrested, and his shaved skull -- he's practically skin and bones -- makes it look like he's been in a prison camp. Our protagonist, an energetic young woman with a ponytail, is being led away by the police as she passes ‘Henry’, a lumberjack who's going to cut down some trees.

Cut to the police station, where Henry comes to bail out the female protestor. The body language is superb -- she's angry and he's confused. They get on his motorcycle and she softens, inching her body towards him, until she puts her arms around his waist.

So, do I really need a bank that understands loggers and protestors sometimes ride a motorcycle into the sunset together? And again, what does this have to do with the bank?”

- Barbara Lippert, Adweek

As with HSBC’s traditional ultra-conservative business model, which was generally shunned by its rivals but which has served it extraordinarily well, the outlandish TV ad may seem just as out of place now. While many of those rivals have been reduced to just a shadow of their former selves in the ongoing financial crisis, only time will tell how effective this ad message is ultimately and whether it is ad money well spent. But from the marketing standpoint, it is already creating quite a buzz. ….