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Enduring partnerships

Banking on each other: 20 years of HSBC and VML

This month marks the 20th anniversary of the partnership between HSBC and WPP's VML. We look at some of their best work together

By creative salon

It's not often that advertising account reviews cause national headlines but HSBC's decision to do just that created ripples beyond the ad puddle back in 2004.

Its incumbent agency Lowe was foundering and the £350 million global piece of business was particularly prized. Little wonder that Publicis Groupe, Interpublic, Omnicom and WPP threw the kitchen sink at trying to win it, only for the latter network to triumph in May 2004, with JWT chosen to lead the business.

The HSBC business was run by Toby Hoare, who would later become chief executive of JWT Europe and vice chairman of Wunderman Thompson, while HHCL's Axel Chaldecott was brought in as creative lead. The HSBC strapline "The world's local bank" developed by Lowe, is a continuing legacy to his contribution.

The HSBC Ad Evolution

It was a marriage of two venerable institutions - the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation was established in 1866, making it 30 years older than JWT.

While HSBC, which acquired the Midland Bank (itself the target of a famously hubristic Saatchi & Saatchi takeover in the 80s) in 1991, has remained a constant, JWT has evolved through mergers over the past 20 years into Wunderman Thompson and now VML. The partnership has endured structural turmoil and global financial crises (as well as a brief period when JWT shared the work with Saatchi & Saatchi).

"Having a partner who has a deep understanding of your business and its unique opportunities and challenges is critical," says HSBC UK's chief marketing officer Becky Moffatt. "From JWT to WT to VML our relationship with WPP and some of its key agencies has been at the heart of our advertising and communications for many years, and we have evolved and grown together."

The work that the agency - in its various iterations - has created over the years has been of a consistent quality, spanning epic TV work to mark its long-running sponsorship of the Rugby Sevens and British & Irish Lions to more recent installations to promote its partnership with the charity Shelter to improve the plight of the homeless.

According to Laura Kelly, business lead on HSBC for VML, the relationship is underpinned through trust and understanding with the aim of the agency acting as an extension of the internal marketing team.

"We have always been driven to produce work that is going to stand out for the brand, and I think this, coupled with an unmatched understanding of the business, has led to the longevity in our partnership and built a strong foundation for all that we do," she adds.

Kelly says that HSBC has developed a global brand reputation by creating great work that offers a strong point of view, which has helped it achieve cut-through in congested markets.

"Over the years, this approach has delivered impressive results for both brand and business and importantly has driven a great sense of pride amongst our employees to work on a brand that isn’t afraid to push boundaries," she continues.

Here we look at some of the most notable work that JWT/Wunderman Thompson/VML has produced over the 20-year partnership with HSBC.

2005 - 'Bump'

One of JWT's earliest campaigns contrasted the stereotypical uptight German attitude to driving with the insouciance of the French. The campaign ran in May 2005.

2005 - 'Tango'

This theme of "cultural collisions" to emphasise HSBC's global reach continued in 2005 with 'Tango'. The spot showed how a European man is surprised by the lack of personal space he receives in Mexico as he is pushed, pulled and embraced through a huge tango pulsing through the streets of a Mexican city.

The ad was backed by a slow-building Latin rhythm, recorded by the London Symphony Orchestra, which reaches a crescendo at the end of the dance.

2009 - 'Lions'

Some of the top players from the 2009 British Lions & Irish tour to South Africa took on a wild coaching challenge in a series of idents by JWT.

The campaign promoted HSBC's sponsorship of the tour in South Africa.

2012 - 'Lemonade'

A metaphor for entrepreneurialism and HSBC's worldwide reach, this global ad features a little girl selling lemonade on her porch to some international customers. It was shot in Los Angeles using only natural light, the specialty of DP Emmanuel Lubezki, who shot The Tree of Life with Terence Malik.

2012 - Hong Kong 7s 'Serious Play'

Inspired by the tradition of Rugby 7s fans dressing up, this spot shows supporters representing 'play' and the rugby players the 'serious' part of the game. It depicts elves, centurions and cowboys playing rugby in the streets of Hong Kong to mark HSBC's sponsorship of the tournament.

HSBC also minted a commemorative Serious Play medallion for the fans at the event – one of the biggest weekends in the Hong Kong calendar.

2013 - 'The Legendary Journey'

2013 marked the 125th anniversary since the Lions first toured Australia. The epic 'Legendary Journey' spot features Brian O’Driscoll, Jason Robinson, Willie John McBride and JPR Williams in naval costumes recreating that first journey.

2016 - 'Living River'

Celebrating the work of the HSBC Water Programme, 'Living River' was a D&AD Yellow Pencil-winning sound installation that brought the Yangtze river to the Skybridge at Gatwick Airport.

Using authentic sounds taken directly from 35 locations, passengers passing through the Skybridge journeyed from the first bend of the Yangtze to the mouth in Shanghai in immersive, 3D sound.

The experience featured 160 speakers and over 60km of speaker cable and reacted to the movement of people, the time of day and even climatic conditions using real-time weather data from China.

2018 - 'Global Citizen'

In 2018 comedian Richard Ayoade became the face of HSBC, replacing the voice of Sir Michael Gambon.

As the UK prepared to leave the European Union, the bank launched a campaign featuring Ayoade emphasising the international aspects of everyday British life, from Colombian coffee to Swedish flat-pack furniture and Indian takeaways.

The 60-second TV ad is set to the soundtrack of Edward Elgar’s Nimrod and ends with Ayoade saying: "We live on a wonderful lump of land in the middle of the sea. But we are not an island. We are part of something far, far bigger."

2021 - 'Vicious circle'

Wunderman Thompson created this campaign to highlight the struggles those who are experiencing homelessness face when they are not able to access the financial system. The campaign follows on from previous work the agency had developed to promote HSBC UK’s No Fixed Address Service, and its partnership with Shelter, aiming to increase awareness of HSBC’s offering for those without a fixed address.

2022 - 'Faces of Fraud'

This global fraud prevention campaign used AI to educate the public about the tactics fraudsters use to scam them.

Wunderman Thompson worked with Carnegie Mellon University to feed in voice recordings of actual fraudsters into the ‘voice to face’ neural network to generate face composites that predict facial features based on the speaker’s unique ‘audible DNA’.

The predicted faces of the fraudsters informed the creation of various digital humans using Epic Game’s Unreal engine creation platform ‘Metahumans’. Wunderman Thompson then brought these digital ‘fraudsters’ to life using motion capture.

2023 - 'F1 Idents'

The sponsorship idents marked HSBC's takeover of the sponsorship of Channel 4’s Formula 1 coverage. They reminded viewers of HSBC’s position as one of the world’s leading international banks by turning the normally uneventful scene of an airport baggage carousel into a Formula 1 track. Channel 4 commentator Alex Jacques and former racing driver David Coulthard feature within the idents.

2023 - 'Hanging On'

The ‘Hanging On’ campaign built on HSBC and Shelter's previous 'No Fixed Address' work, and included a live out-of-home activation, which took place on June 22 in King’s Cross Station, London. It featured an actor climbing a never-ending 3.5-metre rotating wall with the message, “NO HOME. NO JOB. NO BANK ACCOUNT...” circling, symbolising the relentless struggle people experiencing homelessness endure. The message conveyed is clear: ‘It’s hard to hang on without help.’

Ben Worden, chief strategy officer for VML describes HSBC as "an iconic global brand" that has continued in its mission to offer a distinctive point of view on finance no matter how the world has changed.

"Everyone who has ever worked on it should feel proud of three things: being part of a brilliant team, delivering brilliant creativity, and brilliant results for the brand and the business," he adds.

While much has changed between the people running both HSBC and VML: (and indeed the name of the agency itself), the partnership has produced many memorable campaigns - from the filmic epics for its rugby association to installations and activations promoting causes. As a result, to date, the partnership has won 81 awards in the UK alone.


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