Why HSBC Wants New Yorkers to Get On a Soapbox

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 Tell us why, especially as soapboxes, though once popular, have been replaced by blogging as the modern-day equivalent of opinion expression.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.