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The Future According to HSBC

Laura Bouchard - May 6, 2015

I was recently flying through Pearson, and in the jet bridge (those walkway things that attach to the plane) there was a series of HSBC ads.

You may have heard of HSBC. Not only are they one of the world’s largest banking institutions, but they’ve also recently been caught in several massive scandals: first, in a deferred prosecution agreement (where no one was indicted, of course), the bank admitted to breaking the law and laundering money for Mexican drug cartels, terrorists, and Iran. More recently, it has been leaked that HSBC private banking helped conceal over $100 billion from authorities in a tax dodging scheme for its ultra wealthy clients.

HSBC private banking is HSBC’s Swiss banking arm that services the global elite; and in case you were wondering who that is, clients implicated in the illegal accounts include various royalty, celebrities, arms dealers, and, for good measure, known blood-diamond traders. The whole affair has been a PR disaster for HSBC, but also for Switzerland and Swiss banking generally. Switzerland’s former foreign minister, Micheline Calmy-Rey, warned that the affair had “seriously damaged” her country’s international image, placing HSBC with Nazi gold in terms of things that are damaging to Swiss banking’s reputation.

From a brand perspective, Nazi gold is not where you want to be at all. So I imagine that this recent advertising push is driven by a desire to associate HSBC with anything but its past transgressions. In the words of HSBC Chief Executive Stuart Gulliver:

“We accept responsibility for our past mistakes.. We have said we are profoundly sorry for them, and we do so again. The HSBC of today is a fundamentally different organization from the one that made those mistakes.”

This classic diversionary line, “But that was in the past!! I can’t do anything about the past. Let’s move forward,” is predictable enough. What is less expected, is that advertising creative really ran with the message. They’ve tailored an ad campaign solely on the premise of: THE FUTURE. ISN’T IT AWESOME? SO MUCH BETTER THAN THE PAST.

The only problem is that HSBC’s concept of a positive future is terrifying. Which brings us to…

Ad #1

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This scenario is a straight-up Waterworld dystopia. There’s a new world emerging, and it doesn’t have any fresh water.

Ad #2

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First off, there’s a barcode on this fish. I’m pretty sure somebody already made this ad, and it was Adbusters in the 90s.

Also, this idea clearly came into existence after the following conversation:

MBA #1 – We’re facing a food crisis because the ocean is running out of fish!! What do we do!?!
MBA #2 – Hmmm, let me think. Have we tried… synergy?
MBA #1: Great idea!

Of course if the food chain and supply chain “merged” it would mean either that: all ocean life has been exterminated except for things we farm and harvest ourselves; or, we have found a commerical use for everything alive in the ocean! Mulched jellyfish for all!

Ad #3

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At first I was surprised that cyborg bees actually made it into an ad spot, because people are afraid of both of those things. Then it occurred to me that maybe the whole thing was an elaborate drone pun.

Ad #4

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I saw half a dozen of these, and I can’t help but wonder that if this is HSBC’s best case scenario for the future, what is its worst case?

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