Five years later it was valued at $8.7 billion, and everyone on earth and their mum knew who it was, what it did and felt predisposed towards it to boot. That's a financial success story and then some.
As a creative director, I can't help but ponder what slice of that $8.7 billion was affected by good advertising. And ultimately, good creative work. Yeah, yeah, shrewd acquisition strategy helped, organic growth, da da da. But what about the friendly bit? The face of the brand? The bit that got talked about over a pint, not a power lunch? The bit that made the world smile and spread the word on their way down to the nearest HSBC with their life savings?
First, the line "the world's local bank". The brilliant clients that bought it have had a damn good return for their money. Instantly memorable and as warm as toast, it's a big proposition and a legitimate piece of positioning in one. It also has that company manifesto/internal pride/staff rallying-cry value to it, a bit like Tesco's "every little helps" (another golden nugget from the Lowe thinktank).
The ads themselves are all on the money. The idea is simple and it travels well.
Each ad offers an observation of the quirky differences between cultures around the world.
They deliver a simple message: we take local knowledge from all over the world, we share it, and everyone who banks with us benefits. Ker-ching.
It's a construct that lets HSBC tell us what it wants us to know it knows, without any of the usual patronising self-interest rife in the category.
There's big money in a little humility.
We saw all of this thinking condensed effortlessly into "behaviour", which helped initiate the straight-talking, jargon-free tone (1). What a pleasant surprise for the category. It had me smiling and what's a smile worth these days? A million dollars? Make it two.
Then came "eels" (2). It made the point and it made viewers laugh. And it's a bank ad, for god's sake. Funny and finance in the same breath is worth every penny.
"Okey dokey" instantly brought the campaign a new scale with no less humility (3). A fantastic bit of film, a Hendrix soundtrack. Remember the way the monkey grabs his head at the end? In charm, he had to be worth a few million alone. That's monkey business for you.
"Hole in one" was a very well-written ad. Beautifully crafted storytelling (4). Everyone loves a story. Notice there hasn't been so much as a single number mentioned in an ad yet and the punters are stepping up with the cash thick and fast.
We're on a roll now, the campaign is up and flying. "Flowers" couldn't lose with its heady trio of death, romance and mopeds (6). All the ingredients and intricate plot of a good European film in a 30-second ad.
The work will go on and on, "tango" is the most recent execution to bless our screens (5). The ad makes a clear point and it is very well shot.
I'm decided that if the strategy's bang on and the idea's got legs, the executions can vary a little over the years. Some you like, some you don't.
But, weak or strong, they all add to the big brand piggy bank.
Congratulations and thanks to HSBC - keep up the good work.
1. HSBC Title: Behaviour Agency: Lowe Year: 2002 2. HSBC Title: Eels Agency: Lowe Year: 2003 3. HSBC Title: Okey dokey Agency: Lowe Year: 2004 4. HSBC Title: Hole in one Agency: Lowe Year: 2004 5. HSBC Title: Tango Agency: JWT Year: 2005 6. HSBC Title: Flowers Agency: JWT Year: 2004