I often like to check out and juxtapose ads from the same industry. For this post, I wanted to look at two banking adverts: from HSBC and NatWest, both of which are headquartered in London.

HSBC – Differing points of view

I’ve long admired the HSBC long-running campaign for its provocation, timeliness and consistency. The main thrust of the HSBC message is to show the different forms of humanity and how words take on different meaning according to your perspective (over time, according to culture, trend, language, age…).

Trendy or Traditional

It seems that, whenever I come across them, they tend to make sense and strike a chord. HSBC’s tagline for the ad is all the more meaningful in the context of the rise of nationalism and populism:

“Isn’t it better to be open to other people’s points of view?”

Another HSBC execution is just to look at a single word and show the different variations. In this case, HSBC chose the word: Responsibility.

Responsibility through different eyes

In their HR job boards, HSBC states that its brand values are “Perceptive, Progressive, Responsive, Respectful and Fair.”


My one observation about those five “brand values” is that they are expressed quite differently on the HSBC corporate website (only three listed):

  • Dependable
  • Open to different ideas and cultures
  • Connected to customers, communities, regulators and each other

Curiously, the word progressive doesn’t even feature (the word “progress” appears but with another sense). Overall, though, HSBC has taken a territory and dominated it. Wouldn’t you agree?

NatWest – We are what we do

It’s in this context that I took a look at the advert of NatWest (National Westminster Bank), a member of the Royal Bank of Scotland Group (RBS). Launched in September 2016, NatWest has come up with its own “big values” advert that reinforces a human truth: we are what we do. Take a look:

“We are thoughtful,” a voiceover says over an arty black-and-white montage of babies and football hooligans. “We are thoughtless … We are kind and we are cruel. We are creative, destructive, brave, stupid. We are responsible. And responsible.” And at the end, the advert concludes:

“We are all what we have done and what we will do. We are no different. We are what we do.”

The phrase that just made me hoot with laughter was: we are no different. How can a brand wish to stand out by suggesting that it is no different?

To be fair, NatWest’s corporate four core values as expressed on its website, look different from HSBC:

  • Serving customers
  • Working together
  • Doing the right thing
  • Thinking long term

The challenge is linking those values to the advert campaign. And with all such communications, the real challenge is actually making them come alive, be experienced by the employees, clients and stakeholders. But that’s a bigger topic for another post.

The real issue in this communication strategy is that the NatWest adverts have a feeling of deja vu. If it’s not enough to feel that all banks are the same (and that the banking industry suffers from a bad reputation in the consumers’ eyes), it’s virtually impossible to understand any underlying points of difference when they play on the same territory. NatWest’s one-minute ad also features the following juxtaposition:

“We are… responsible”

The NatWest ad ends: “We are no different.”

Enough said.

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