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.


Anti-plain packaging ad



I somehow managed to miss this last month, but I thought it so interesting that it’s worth sharing for anyone else that may also be slow on the uptake.

The tobacco giant JTI giant ran a national advertising campaign against plain cigarette packaging in response to the government proposals to include legislation on the issue in the Queen’s speech.

The print ad uses a letter from a Department of Health official to the Australian government, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, to accuse the government of implementing plain packaging proposals despite the fact that “there isn’t any hard evidence to show that it works.”

It’s a brilliant piece of advertising.  The British public hate the nanny state and this ad very cleverly uses the government’s own words to accuse them of intervening without basis.

The ‘We couldn’t have put it better ourselves’ line is a political advertising classic and is usually accompanied by a quotation taken completely out of context.  The damning thing about this execution is that the letter is shown in whole.

The letter was dismissed by the Department of Health, which said evidence and research has since been developed.  But the enforcement of plain packaging was dropped by the government days before the Queen’s speech… no doubt ALL because of this ad…

Review – Propaganda: power and persuasion at the British Library

propoganda power and persuasion british library

On the weekend I went to visit Propaganda: Power and Persuasion, a new exhibition at the British Library examining state propaganda, from its origins in the ancient world up until the present day.

If you’re interested in politics and communication it’s definitely worth a visit.  The exhibition space itself is very dark and feels slightly old-fashioned, but the quality of the content and analysis combine to create a very stimulating experience.

With over 200 exhibits, it has a good range of works; there are Napoleon-era paintings, posters from the Spanish civil war and Nazi films as well as modern day phenomena like tweets shown in a giant data visualisation installation.

Curated by Jude England and Ian Cooke, curators of Social Science at the British Library, the exhibition explores the different ways in which the state has used propaganda to influence the thoughts and feelings of a nation.

It’s organised by theme, rather than chronologically; there are sections on ‘internal enemy’, ‘external enemy’, ‘sport’ and ‘health’ amongst others.  Whilst there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with this and it makes sense from an analytical point of view, it is slightly annoying that you can’t just pick a period which particularly interests you and immerse  yourself in the communications of the era.

There’s lots of video content (provided by the British Film Institute) and interviews with academics and commentators including Alastair Campbell, John Pilger, Iain Dale, Tessa Jowell, Noam Chomsky and David Welch, which all adds interest.  Slightly annoyingly there’s only ever one pair of headphones to a screen, so you have to loiter with sharp elbows at the ready to get an earful.

The exhibition will be accompanied by a series of events, including talks from political advertising luminaries such as Trevor Beattie.  Matt Forde, an old pal of mine, is also hosting a comedy night – Political Party – in honour of the exhibition on Monday 15th July which should be fantastic. 

The exhibition costs £9 and is open daily until 17th September.