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15 . 05 . 20

HSBC shows that shorter isn’t always sweeter

Words by: Print Power
Wunderman Thompson and HSBC used context to their advantage with an old-school approach to newspaper advertising that shunned the idea that print is an offline medium

In 2018, HSBC ran a 60-second spot featuring IT Crowd actor and adorable man-child Richard Ayoade. In it, the Cambridge-educated son of a Nigerian father and Norwegian mother reflected on how we Brits are a nation of Costa Rican coffee-drinking, Swedish furniture-building, French bulldog-walking folk.

He concludes: “We are not an island. … We are part of something far, far bigger.” And with this, HSBC took its international notoriety and repositioned it to make ‘global’ less about geography and more about values.

The objective of the campaign was to force people to re-evaluate what they thought they knew about the bank; to make clear that HSBC has a voice and a stance on the way it thinks Britain will thrive; and to create something with real cut-through in a crowded marketplace.

“Right from the start, we didn’t want our advertising to feel like bank advertising,” explains Mike Watson, the Wunderman Thompson creative director who worked on the campaign. “The category can be very dry. And often quite nostalgic. We wanted to ground our message in the here and now.”

It was an approach that resonated in this time of uncertainty – but it was only when the print component launched that the campaign really grabbed headlines and caught fire on social.


Comprising several city-specific newspaper manifestos to start with (below), coupled with a number of product ads, a bold use of typography and a limited colour palette, the placements screamed “Read me!”. Once people did, they took to social channels in droves to discuss and share them.


Omar El-Gammal, planning director at JWT London, says he and the team found it fascinating that the hero print manifesto was so similar (copy-wise) to the TV ad – and yet, the reaction was nowhere near as prominent or as powerful for TV as it was for the former.

Two years into the ‘Together we thrive’ campaign  HSBC has managed to more than double its ad awareness, to the point where it’s now at its highest point since JWT started measuring.

“We’ve gone with what is deemed an old-fashioned medium and approach, and yet we’ve managed to drive online conversation,” says El-Gammal.

“We decided not to view print as an offline medium. We’ve tried creative executions that were powerful enough to demand your attention – to provoke conversation on digital channels. As a result, the vast majority of the positive engagement we saw online and on social media was actually about the print execution.”

The level of engagement is something he and others put down to context. And placing the ad in ‘long dwell’ channels – be it a newspaper wrap or strategically placed full-page ads – meant the copy wouldn’t be ignored.

Metro Frontpage.jpg
Metro Backpage.jpg

Have you ever stood on a tube platform and seen a Jack Daniel’s ad? You can’t help but read it from start to finish as you ‘Mind The Gap’,” suggests Watson. “They’re great ads, but more than that they’re refreshingly different in an environment where everything scannable is trying to land a message in two seconds flat. HSBC had an important message to deliver, and we wanted to make sure that it stood out in the same way. We deliberately stripped back all imagery and focussed on the story we wanted to tell.”

It’s not a luxury afforded to many agencies. When questioned about Claire Beale’s assertion in a recent article that agencies have “forgotten how to create simple, powerful press ads, maybe even with some beautiful accompanying copywriting”, Watson responds that it’s more the fact that agencies are seldom empowered to do so. 

A brave client, he continues, will invest in bigger, bolder ideas – they’re along for the ride. “We’ve gone into this world of testing and efficiency. It sometimes becomes a process with far too many layers. One where you’re not in creative mode anymore, you’re in crowd control.”

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HSBC is a brand with form for churning out great campaigns – no more so than in 2002 when it became “the world’s local bank”. And in a crowded media landscape fixated on short-term wins, vision and bravery are vitally important characteristics if you’re in it for the long game.

JWT report that they’re already seeing major payback on brand health metrics – in particular general impression and positive buzz around the brand, both of which go beyond advertising.

It’s why a school recently requested to use the campaign as an example for kids in how to write a manifesto. It’s also why more than 580 internal manifestos have been voluntarily submitted by departments within the bank. 

“The world is awash with ads that feature pithy headlines over beautiful images,” says Watson. “Similar to an Instagram feed, where you have one beautiful image next to another, you can reach saturation point where you quickly just ‘thumb’ past them.”

But the success of this and other campaigns, most notably the Cannes Lion-winning Kiwi print ad, proves that marketers can cut through with an ad that requires time and quality attention. And the key, Watson reminds us, is context.