Soapboxes predate blogs as one of the earliest forms of self-expression, but HSBC is making the platform hot once again in the latest extension of its ad campaign. “The world’s local bank” will ask consumers to step on a soapbox and speak their thoughts at an experiential event this Thursday in New York’s Madison Square Park. The effort, via JWT, New York, encompasses print, TV, digital and out-of-home, including bus wraps and “station domination” in New York’s Grand Central Terminal. The push is a continuation of HSBC’s “Different Values” global campaign, which launched last fall. Phase two, however, will focus more on New York, since 380 of HSBC’s 470 U.S. branches are in New York State. The goal is to get consumers chatting about real-life values and to recognize that there’s a bank that will listen and respond to them, said Johanna Breman Tzur, HSBC’s svp and head of brand advertising in the U.S. (pictured). Tzur discussed why the soapbox is the ideal platform for HSBC’s new effort, and why the notion of “values” is an important topic in a recession. Excerpts from that conversation are below.
Brandweek: HSBC is beginning phase two of its “Different Values” campaign this month. What success have you seen since the initial launch last October?
Johanna Breman Tzur: We are really excited about this campaign because it really embodies us—HSBC, the world’s local bank, representing the range of values out there. We are proud of the success we had with [phase 1] of our campaign. Our “Lumberjack” spot won a top design award in London [Creative Circle, 2009 Gold Award] and has been added to the permanent collection of the MoMA. There’s been a lot of momentum behind that and our out of home ads have been seen by travelers and locals all over the world last October.
We’re hearing “thought provoking,” that they really make an impact and consumers really seem to like the fact that we’re listening to them and the range of values out there.
BW: You’re introducing a soapbox—of all things!—in this new push. Tell us why, especially as soapboxes, though once popular, have been replaced by blogging as the modern-day equivalent of opinion expression.
JT: We thought that the soapbox is really the ultimate device for classic representation of free speech, that podium for expressing your right. It could be seen as a traditional, old school way of expression, but we see it as the perfect way to bring back this real or authentic form of expression. There is no substitute for that personal, face-to-face experience. Knowing you’ve been heard and there is a live person receiving your message is critical to feeling truly heard and listened to…The smiley face or “LOL” we use on blogs can’t substitute for the face-to-face interaction and that’s what the soapbox represents—a very human way to share your thoughts with the world—and we’re taking the campaign from soapbox to screen by pushing it out in the modern day forms of digital and TV advertising.
BW: Soapboxes were often a platform for political expression. HSBC, however, is encouraging consumers to share their thoughts on family, education, fast food and even nuclear energy. What’s all this chatter doing in a banking campaign and how are you utilizing it?
JT: What we are trying to do is move from asking people about broad-based general opinions to what they really value. We are using visual stimuli to get at what’s really important to people. For us to learn what people value in their lives and what drives their daily lives has helped us to make for a better banking experience and [further enhance] the proposition that we deliver to consumers at the end of the day.
BW: You’re launching this campaign with an experiential soapbox event in New York this Thursday. What else do you have going on that day?
JT: We will have an art installation of a visual image that represents those topics—fast food, nuclear energy—and then we will have a TV spot being filmed [nearby] with New Yorkers sharing their values. We will also have a values video wall present where consumers can see what others are saying out there. [Footage from the soapbox event will be videotaped and incorporated into a digital campaign launching later this month.]
BW: You’re taking the print ads and blowing them up into larger-than-life out-of-home visuals, called “wild postings” later this month. Isn’t that a big unconventional for bank advertising?
JT: It’s amplified in bigger than life sizes to really provoke your thoughts on “Hm, what is this image? What does it represent to me?” [One ad, for instance, shows a photo of a baby, repeated three times, with the words, “love,” “legacy” and “expense” written across each.] Myself, being a new mom, might think in one direction, someone else as a child might think something different, and someone else may have a different perspective of what that really means.
I don’t know I’d say brow raising. Getting people to pay attention—that’s what we want to do with this campaign. We are truly open to hearing what they value. These are things that are at the cornerstone of our products and services…and we know from our branches that customers have mentioned the campaign. When they come to a branch, they seem to be really excited about banking with a bank that uses unconventional ways of engaging with and listening to consumers.
BW: Is this whole focus on “values” still as relevant as when the campaign first launched in October, when the recession was definitely more severe?
JT: It’s more important now. Now is the time when people are taking stock of what happened in their lives, whereas a few months back, people were caught in the midst of it and now they are being able to build a new foundation for what their future will look like or want they want it to be, so we are really keen to be a part of that.
BW: How does this campaign compare with the original launch, spending-wise?
JT: We like to think about not the quantity of our budget, but how we’re spending the money, and it’s very consistent with our overall communication, which is to make sure our consumers see our [campaign], and more important than that, understand that we want to know what they value, how they are making decisions, so we can deliver the top banking experience.
BW: The campaign started out global. Why the focus on New York?
JT: That’s where the vast majority of our branches, our footprints are located. In seeing what people value, we are looking to the place where our consumers are most represented. Hearing what’s important to them made the most sense as they represent the very population of our serving. There are just under 400 branches in New York.
BW: OK. Now it’s your turn. Here’s your soapbox. Say something.
JT: If you were to say, “Get on the soapbox and talk about what’s important to HSBC as a bank,” [I’d answer], “We are a bank, but we are made up of 335,000 employees all around and more than 100 million consumers all over the world, all with values and daily life decisions. We want to be heard. Even if [only] a handful of people walking through our branches feel they’ve been heard and listened to and HSBC helped make their lives financially better, then the campaign has been a success.
THE ELEMENTS OF CONSUMER LEARNING
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