HSBC has denied accusations that its recently launched 'We Are Not an Island' campaign is "anti-Brexit" following scrutiny on social media.
The poster campaign, which champions the UK's internationalism, has divided opinion on Twitter. While some have praised HSBC for taking what they perceived to be a political stance, others – including Conservative MP Bob Seeley and commentator Tim Montgomerie – derided the posters for what they viewed as an anti-Brexit sentiment.
As a result, the bank has been forced to clarify the thinking behind the creative execution.
A spokesperson told The Drum: "This campaign is not about Brexit. It focuses on the importance of being open and connected to the world."
Launched last week, 'We Are Not An Island' comprises a series of copy-led print executions that seek to celebrate the elements of British life that are indebted to the nation's connections to the wider world. It was produced by JWT London.
Versions of the billboards have appeared in Leeds, Manchester, Birmingham and London. They each feature local references unique to the UK, such as the formation of Oasis in Manchester.
The posters are part of the brand's wider ‘Together We Thrive’ and 'Global Citizen' initiatives, which feature a TV spot showing The IT Crowd’s Richard Ayoade reveling in the influence that countries such as India, Colombia, Denmark, Germany and Taiwan have had on the UK.
Though it was intended 'to focus on the importance of being open and connected to the world', the timing of the ad (coupled with separate reports that HSBC is to shift staff to France from London post-Brexit) has seen the ads criticised on social media for being anti-Brexit.
Among the complainers is political commentator Montgomerie, who tweeted: :We are an island actually - full of villages and towns your bank deserted; of cleaners you underpaid; and of money laundering and other laws you bent."
Seeley then shared the Montgomerie's post, saying: "Spot on, and yes, we're part of something bigger; the world. @HSBC, perhaps #Brexit could mean higher standards in banking?"
People were quick to laud what they saw as the advertisers' anti-Brexit sympathies.
HSBC have their heart in the right place with this advert pic.twitter.com/7v2bCEhw7N — I Love Manchester (@ILoveMCR) January 5, 2019
Others interpreted a different message entirely.
Actually I took the advert to mean that we are part of something far bigger than the EU. The strapline to that advert was ‘together we thrive’ - as global, not EU participants.
— TheBofinger (@BofingerThe) January 4, 2019
I wondered about that too, are we maligning HSBC? As EU members we are part of an inward-looking, sclerotic cabal, but as an independent country again, rather outward-looking and dynamic - global. Perhaps thats what they are getting at? I do hope so... — Gwyneth Harris (@GwynethHarris) January 4, 2019
Points go to some cheeky creatives who changed the copy to make the ad much more controversial.
In advertising, the messenger matters as much as the message. Not looking at anyone in particular...
— Currer Ball (@Currer_Ball) January 8, 2019
“We believe that the people, communities and businesses in the UK thrive most when connected and open," clarified a HSBC spokesperson.
"Our 'Global Citizen' campaign is central to this, and with the ‘We Are Not An Island’ ads we are reinforcing our strong belief that the things that make us quintessentially British are the things that make us inescapably international.”
With its HQ in London, HSBC has previously outlined plans to shift staff and operations to Europe following Brexit. The company has suggested it could move some London-based jobs to its existing operations in Paris and in recent months has already switched control of several of its European branches to the city.