The World: HSBC aims to appear global yet approachable

JWT's ad strategy gives the bank's diversity theme a fresh slant by focusing on people rather than places.

In 1999, the HSBC brand was non-existent. Five years later, it was valued at $8.7 billion. Now that's a financial success story, if ever there was one.

Following the appointment of JWT to its advertising account last year, the financial giant wanted a new slant on the "world's local bank" positioning that helped to establish the brand.

The latest campaign changes the focus from the differences between countries to the differences between people. It also maintains the bank's aversion to the solemn, product-led advertising that is so prevalent in the financial sector.

"Haute couture" was crafted by JWT's London office, the lead agency on the account. The ad shows a model parading down a catwalk as various contradictory words - "pointless?", "inspired?", "trendy?", "tragic?" - flash up on screen. The ad asserts that everyone looks at the world from a different perspective and ends by posing the question: "What's your point of view?"

The campaign goes on to embrace topics from the light-hearted to the socially aware and provocative. Television, print and outdoor executions feature visual discourses on old age, gorillas, wind farms and art, listing words that give opposing perspectives.

Peter Stringham, the group general manager of marketing at HSBC, explains the approach. "We certainly didn't want to veer away from the core idea of the world's local bank," he says.

"We have evolved the previous campaign, which we called 'cultural collisions', into one that feels more personal."

Stringham points out two weaknesses of the "cultural collisions" work.

"First, the campaign was starting to run out of gas creatively - there are only so many local hand gestures you can come up with," he says. "Second, although people found the work entertaining, a lot thought it was merely observational and didn't really have anything to do with them."

So HSBC set about developing a conversation with its customers to make the brand appear more approachable. The ads direct viewers and readers to a website,, which lies at the heart of the campaign. There, they can voice their opinions on a range of topics. An online survey asks the public to give feedback on the new work, while an internal corporate programme aims to educate staff about the campaign.

The JWT executive chairman, Toby Hoare, says: "We are trying to get people to spend time with HSBC rather than just selling them something. If you go to the site, we're deliberately not trying to sell anything - there's no catch, no hidden agenda. It's a genuine attempt to engage people."

Although the campaign has an strong sense of branding, some in the industry argue the ads do not make a clear connection between the advertising and the products and services HSBC offers.

Chris Clark, the head of marketing planning at HSBC, disagrees. He believes that each ad delivers the simple message that HSBC takes local opinions from all over the world and shares them to the benefit of all its customers.

Clark says this simple executional concept can be applied to all sorts of different financial products and services. "We have integrated the campaign way beyond just the brand experience," he says. "It has much more of a human point of view about why people use financial services and the different emotional attachments people have to belongings."

Some 1,000 people from 22 agencies within the network worked on the $300 million project. And, in keeping with the theme of global diversity, the ads were made using 30 directors from around the world, each one giving their execution a different local slant.

It was up to the individual countries to devise culturally relevant versions of the initial idea. The global campaign, which has so far launched in eight countries, including the UK, Australia, Singapore and Mexico, serves as a brand umbrella over regional advertising efforts, which JWT also handles.

The campaign has been a colossal task in terms of production. HSBC's strategy was not to rely on one execution. TeamHSBC, the JWT department established to service the account, plans to roll out many more ads as it attempts to build the brand. To start with, JWT has produced 12 television commercials and more than 20 outdoor and print ads, enabling local markets to select from a library of existing executions.

"Each country has developed its own variations on the initial idea," Hoare says. "So, rather than producing all the ads here in London, our local agencies are developing their own ads regionally, within a country or a particular business - whatever is appropriate."

But will the bank's customers get it? HSBC claims it is positioning itself as an informed, culturally aware organisation that has embraced diversity and made it part of its business ethic. While the brand is undeniably well known, it remains to be seen whether the new message will encourage members of the public to head to their nearest branch with their life savings.

Hoare is confident the advertising strategy will get the message across.

"The whole campaign is all about diversity and positioning HSBC as a bank that stands for something and takes a position rather than just sells products to people," he asserts.

"We feel we have struck a chord that is right for customers and is true to the bank. HSBC is different to other global banking organisations - both culturally and organisationally. That's what we've tried to tap in to."

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