FNB attacks South African government

Throughout the early part of this year there has been a huge public spat in South Africa between a fast growing and innovative national bank – FNB – and the ruling ANC government.

The cause of the argument is the above advertisement (one of many videos released).  You can read the full story here.

The CEO of FNB stood down last week and The Mail & Guardian, one of South Africa’s daily newspapers asked me a few questions and as I felt that all my answers were so fantastic I thought you would appreciate me posting the full transcript of the interview here:

Does political advertising work?

Yes political advertising does work and in a number of different ways:

1.  It helps create a narrative in the mind of your audience.

2.  It motivates your activist base.

3.  It depresses the opposition’s activist base.

4.  It interferes with the opposition’s strategy.

5.  It can influence those undecided about a given issue or election.

A study by Michael Franz, published in American Politics Research in March 2010, found that a 1,000-ad advantage in any given market over the course of an election increased a candidate’s vote share by about 0.5 percentage points

Is the effect of political advertising such as that of FNB on a company’s bottom line?

If I was to summarise what I think the communications brief was for these adverts I would suggest it was something like:

Get:  16 – 30 year old South Africans

Who: are restless and feel dissatisfied with the state of the word, but who are optimistic about the future

To: consider opening a current account with FNB

By having them believe: that FNB understands and shares their point of view on the world and is therefore best suited to cater for their financial needs

This communications brief is sound.  The answer to the brief could have been executed creatively in a number of different ways, many of which would have not had overt political intonations.

The route they have gone down has created political controversy around the company, which is not necessarily a bad thing given the brief.

The communications could be considered a success if the objectives for the campaign, and for the company as a whole, are achieved.

However, seeing as the CEO has resigned that would suggest that the impact the campaign has had on the business has not outweighed the controversy and publicity, therefore the campaign has to be considered a failure.

In a country like South Africa – a new, politically fraught democracy – do you think that political advertising is a wise idea?

Political advertising is an essential element of free speech.  It would be incompatible to claim to be a democratic state whilst at the same time ban or subvert paid-for political communication.

Do you think Jordaan did FNB a service or a disservice with the campaign?

It was an advertising campaign which seems to have been deemed to have backfired, so on the face of it Jordaan must be perceived to have done the company a disservice.  However, I would be interested to see opinion polls, brand tracking and business results over the medium term for FNB.  It may be that the communications and subsequent publicity have positively impacted how lots of people in South Africa perceive the bank and the bank may well be rewarded for that with improved business results; if that is the case then Jordaan should be exonerated.

Anything else you’d add?:

I wholeheartedly support FNB’s right to run advertising of this nature.  If a company wishes to make a political statement it would be undemocratic for a government to prevent them from doing so.

However, it is very unusual – in any country – for a company to run communications under their own banner to urge people to vote in a particular way.

The reason for this is simple: public reaction to political messaging is almost uniformly intense but it is hard to predict the direction that the outpouring of emotion will follow.

Given that fact that the ANC are hugely popular amongst a great number of people, the risk that the videos would be divisive would have been obvious from the outset.  FNB took a commercial risk with this communication and therefore they cannot be surprised that some have reacted negatively.

 

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