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What Place Does Politics Have in Advertising?

15th of January 2019

In the wake of HSBC’s politically fuelled OOH and digital campaign (even though they insist it’s entirely separate to the Brexit issue…) we began to wonder what place politics has in advertising. Though the bridge that binds banking and Brexit is well established, the idea of dragging this interest into the public eye as part of a public awareness campaign raises questions of the role of advertising in societal issues.

As a full service media agency, we’ve come across brands and organisations that dance on the line of what’s comfortable to talk about, and usually the campaigns that push the limits of societal norms are the ones that gain the most traction, rendering them the most successful in the eyes of the advertiser, which we can only assume to be the motive here. Usually we’d expect a degree of sincerity in their motive.

When Cancer Research UK made everyone look shamefully at their own stomachs whenever they saw an obesity advert, they did so with the intention of invoking that very reaction; because they have the research that proves how harmful obesity is, and they were looking to initiate change. It all leaves us wondering…what are HSBC trying to achieve from the public with a post vote remainer campaign in the days of negotiation chats and no-deal?

Of course, the nature of advertising is to find something emotive, relatable or different and attach it to your brand in order to generate interest. But we consumers have always expected campaigns that might generate discomfort – like obesity campaign last year – to come from an informed and well intentioned place.

More recently we’ve seen a rise in commercial advertisers moving to involve themselves in societal issues via social media. Throughout 2018, fast food chains engaged in tongue in cheek twitter feuds and British and American politicians and former politicians alike subtweeted one another in a nature evocative of teenagers in the noughties. And we’ll be honest, we absolutely loved it.

So from a moral perspective, is it cynical to brand HSBC’s sudden political interest as sensationalist, or a cheap bid to stake their claim at relevance? It’s difficult to police politically or socially motivated advertising in such politically charged times. Sure, the news, the tea room at work, and your extended family during every occasion and gathering are all talking about it, so why shouldn’t the media?

There’s no denying that campaigns like Greggs’ vegan sausage roll introduction are more beneficial to the company itself than to vegans, animals or the environment. They’ll continue to sell their meat sausage roll en masse, but with a perfectly timed statement that both divided the nation and caused hilarious uproar from one of England’s worst loved celebs, they’re straight in the money – even in the UK’s notorious diet month wherein a bakery should be facing it’s driest spell.

So back to the HSBC ad. With two patriotic OOH creatives in the North’s first and second city, pointing out and praising the intricacies of each city and linking back to the overarching theme of not being an island and relying on connections, can we assume that our friendly local bank just wanted to engage with the public and join the conversation?

Manchester and Leeds are two of the few cities within England out of the UK who voted to remain, so which eliminates the aspect of deliberately causing as controversy for controversy’s sake, and until a second referendum is called by the powers that be, their campaign isn’t likely to spark any political change, so…why? Tweet your thoughts to @OneAgencyMedia


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