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Brand Strategy Marketing The Drum Live

The Drum Live: HSBC CMO Becky Moffat on why finance marketing can’t be all doom and gloom

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By Jennifer Faull, Deputy Editor

September 26, 2023 | 7 min read

At The Drum Live conference in London, the UK marketing chief for the global bank outlined its approach to creativity and why, even in times of economic troubles, the finance sector can afford to inject humor into its marketing.

HSBC

HSBC

After several years at Boots, where she led the retailer’s digital experience strategy, Becky Moffat moved to the financial sector ahead of the most challenging time since the 2008 crisis. At the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, she was named its chief marketing officer in the UK.

Given the state of the economy and the cost of living crisis that has ensued, a finance marketer might be forgiven for avoiding laughs in consumer-facing campaigns. But not Moffat.

“Humor in marketing is critical,” she told an audience at The Drum Live event in London today (September 26). “There’s dark and light in everything. So if this is the dark, it’s important to have light. And, actually, one of the things that we’ve been talking about a lot recently is when you turn the news on and it’s doom and gloom, there’s such an important thing about feeling good, feeling hopeful. Laughter and positivity can bring that. As marketers and advertisers, we have a role to play in actually helping people to feel better.”

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Comedian Richard Ayoade is HSBC’s secret weapon in achieving this. It’s worked with the British star for five years, with the brand ambassador steering it through everything from Brexit to Covid.

In March 2023, as interest rates skyrocketed and people’s thoughts turned towards the prospect of a dreary summer spent at home, HSBC launched a campaign to promote its fee-free international bank account. Made by Wunderman Thompson UK, it saw Ayoade playfully drop the ‘f word’ at exotic locations around the world.

“He is our light to some of the dark. And for me, that balance is really, really important. We’re actually enabling people to walk away from your advertising or communication feeling happy,” she says.

HSBC’s work with Ayoade has won several accolades at The Drum Awards.

Work with Shelter

Hand-in-hand with taking a comedic route in its ATL marketing, Moffat has also spearheaded a more serious campaign to tackle the tricky issue of financial access for homeless people.

After HSBC was forced to move its UK headquarters to Birmingham as part of the banking ring-fencing regulation introduced after the 2008 crash, Moffat was faced with the sheer scale of the problem.

“The homelessness problem was so visible. And that’s where our relationship with Shelter started. Moving to Birmingham felt like we should be able to lean in and support this and actually start to make a difference,” she says.

It set up a financial inclusion team who forged the partnership with homeless charity Shelter and together, they took steps to challenge existing legislation that prevented anyone without a fixed address from being able to open a bank account.

Today, homeless people can use a Shelter hospital address to have their identity verified. Since initiating the partnership, HSBC has opened over 5,000 accounts for people without a permanent address.

“The relationship with Shelter has gone from strength to strength. It educates us constantly about how to do things and how to be helpful,” she explains.

“The perception of our brand, sometimes, is that we’re a big corporate bank and we’re too big to care. But actually working with Shelter, we’ve been able to see that we’re actually big enough to make a difference. If HSBC gets behind something, we can actually really make something change.”

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Slowly, its brand perception is changing for the better. “And what we’ve seen in terms of consideration is that it’s affecting what people see. The first response we get is, ‘Do you really do that? Does a bank really do that?’ The second response is, 'I’m going to go and find out if my bank does that'. So actually, what it has actually done from a commercial position is drive consideration reconsideration of HSBC as a brand.”

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