HSBC top marketer on why airports are underestimated as it launches biggest campaign to date

HSBC's airport creative

HSBC is refreshing its out of home execution in 17 airports – some 1,500 jet bridges spanning 94 km (or 846 football fields). But with the value of airport media space projected to grow in the coming years, the group’s top marketer unveiled how this mammoth undertaking is worth any immediate headaches.

Leanne Cutts, head of marketing at HSBC told The Drum that this summer, some 900 million passengers will see the new work from the ‘Together We Thrive’ campaign which is serving as the delivery vehicle for a brand refresh that features 80 iterations of the hexagon logo. It is the first time the sites have been refreshed in three years.

Spanning the frostbiting wind of Toronto Pearson to the melting rays of Dubai International, HSBC is simultaneous refreshing its 17 global airport presences to reflect the nuances of those markets and the commuters likely to be using them.

Cutts said when she first joined the company in 2017 from Mondelez, where she headed up gum, candy and beverage marketing, she was initially unsure why airports had been so integral to HSBC’s strategy.

“[But] we are a global bank and we want to be where the growth is and where customers connect, the airport is a great physical expression of that," she said.

“It is an amazing media channel. Airports are one of those unique environments, one of the spaces that are actually growing as far as customer numbers are concerned.”

When selecting airports to tell the story of HSBC's trade, education, diversity and inclusion and sustainability stories, customer research is undertaken. From this, the group comes to an understanding about what type of passengers are likely to be greeted by the creative (it varies greatly between holiday and B2B hubs). Nonetheless, HSBC then builds up a presence in sites where it sees a crossover between its current customers – and potential ones.

With the new efforts, the group is avidly studying how HSBC’s digital efforts can be integrated with commuters’ airport journeys. While static imagery livens up the tunnels, Cutts is keen to make HSBC a more dynamic presence in these spaces, in some instances by buying into DOOH signage throughout airport hotspots as commuters dine, shop and wait.

HSBC is in the space for the long-haul and Cutts will be measuring success by looking at the reach of the creative by weighing up passenger volume through each space and using the HSBC app to track in-airport engagement.

To keep the creative fresh, regional agencies are collaborating to dig out the most interesting stories HSBC has to tell; whether that is sustainable farming practices in New York, the food scene in Hong Kong, or community cycling in the UK.

“Depending on your locality, some local markets have chosen a different blend, on top of their executions. There are about 80 different versions. We are encouraging them to refresh that and change that up more often than they have done in the past," Cutts said.

“We have had a revolving programme of updating imagery across the airports but we have never done them all at the same time.

Airports are unique environments, there are challenges. I never knew I would have to have conversations about the density of materials. Not only the usual scuffs and scrapes from people but extreme weather conditions, make sure it doesn't melt in Dubai, and in Toronto, you have to get it up very quickly or it all freezes. It has to be done at certain times of night and day, because they are being used. The logistics around getting them up is extraordinary.

"We're used to it but the scale has created a few headaches. The airports have been thrilled, we are refreshing their tunnels and doing something more interesting, they want customers to have as good a time as possible."

The global brand strategy and airports campaign was developed by Saatchi & Saatchi and utilises the new brand identity developed with Turner Duckworth.

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