The Adgenda: "Lemonade" ads are a smart move from HSBC

Although the music is kind of creepy.

HSBC has put a cheery face on banking with a grade-school entrepreneur in their ads Lemonade and Lemon Grove.

The first video starts with the all-American summer image of a kid earning some pocket money from her home-made lemonade stand. Suddenly trouble arises when her latest customer doesn’t have any American change. Not to worry, turns out not only does our littelest businesswoman cover all major currencies, she also speaks Cantonese. Cue a bus full of new customers and an emerging local lemonade monopoly for international customers.

This raises some questions though. Does the dad get a cut of the profits? Is her home-made sign a lewd marketing campaign playing on the “innocent small business” image? Does she skim a few percentages over the exchange rate for herself? She’s obviously put a lot of thought into this. Fast forward to the next video and the situation has escalated wildly. She now has a lemonade empire stretching at least from America to France. She has also shown her true colours as a hyper competent polyglot with revenues large enough to fly to India to expand her supply routes.

What are the fathers thinking throughout all this? Are they really as naïve as the video leads us to believe and just play along with their daughters little game of merchant? Seems so as when the girl storms off for her next corporate adventure her dad is completely out of the loop. Did she only bring him as a cover story for border controls? If the story and her business follow this exponential growth the next video will feature a global mafia-like organisation, run entirely by twelve-year olds, with complete control of the world’s lemonade trade. The slogan of the ads confirm this: “In the future even the smallest business will be multinational.” Imagine the money she saves alone on using nothing but child labour. She has definitely not filed the official paperwork and who would prosecute a kid working at a street side lemonade stand? The rest of us will simply have to pray she doesn’t turn her attention beyond lemonade.

On a more serious note this is a smart move from HSBC’s side. Bankers have not exactly enjoyed a great image in the last decade, or for that sake, ever. A positive spin and a loveable character are standard for defusing blame and shifting attention. But it seems to focus a bit too much on presentation and too little on outcome. How did the advertisement team picture this play out? An executive wondering which bank could best suit his new takeover and bam his mind flies to HSBC because of an ad which seemed more suited as a storyline for one of his kids’ tv-shows?

Andrea Newman, global head of advertising and marketing communications, HSBC, said the purpose of HSBC’s “In the future” campaign aims to: “bring a sense of warmth, simplicity and optimism to inspire growth.”

The choice of music is terrible and kind of creepy though.

HSBC Photograph: Getty Images
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BHS is Theresa May’s big chance to reform capitalism – she’d better take it

Almost everyone is disgusted by the tale of BHS. 

Back in 2013, Theresa May gave a speech that might yet prove significant. In it, she declared: “Believing in free markets doesn’t mean we believe that anything goes.”

Capitalism wasn’t perfect, she continued: 

“Where it’s manifestly failing, where it’s losing public support, where it’s not helping to provide opportunity for all, we have to reform it.”

Three years on and just days into her premiership, May has the chance to be a reformist, thanks to one hell of an example of failing capitalism – BHS. 

The report from the Work and Pensions select committee was damning. Philip Green, the business tycoon, bought BHS and took more out than he put in. In a difficult environment, and without new investment, it began to bleed money. Green’s prize became a liability, and by 2014 he was desperate to get rid of it. He found a willing buyer, Paul Sutton, but the buyer had previously been convicted of fraud. So he sold it to Sutton’s former driver instead, for a quid. Yes, you read that right. He sold it to a crook’s driver for a quid.

This might all sound like a ludicrous but entertaining deal, if it wasn’t for the thousands of hapless BHS workers involved. One year later, the business collapsed, along with their job prospects. Not only that, but Green’s lack of attention to the pension fund meant their dreams of a comfortable retirement were now in jeopardy. 

The report called BHS “the unacceptable face of capitalism”. It concluded: 

"The truth is that a large proportion of those who have got rich or richer off the back of BHS are to blame. Sir Philip Green, Dominic Chappell and their respective directors, advisers and hangers-on are all culpable. 

“The tragedy is that those who have lost out are the ordinary employees and pensioners.”

May appears to agree. Her spokeswoman told journalists the PM would “look carefully” at policies to tackle “corporate irresponsibility”. 

She should take the opportunity.

Attempts to reshape capitalism are almost always blunted in practice. Corporations can make threats of their own. Think of Google’s sweetheart tax deals, banks’ excessive pay. Each time politicians tried to clamp down, there were threats of moving overseas. If the economy weakens in response to Brexit, the power to call the shots should tip more towards these companies. 

But this time, there will be few defenders of the BHS approach.

Firstly, the report's revelations about corporate governance damage many well-known brands, which are tarnished by association. Financial services firms will be just as keen as the public to avoid another BHS. Simon Walker, director general of the Institute of Directors, said that the circumstances of the collapse of BHS were “a blight on the reputation of British business”.

Secondly, the pensions issue will not go away. Neglected by Green until it was too late, the £571m hole in the BHS pension finances is extreme. But Tom McPhail from pensions firm Hargreaves Lansdown has warned there are thousands of other defined benefit schemes struggling with deficits. In the light of BHS, May has an opportunity to take an otherwise dusty issue – protections for workplace pensions - and place it top of the agenda. 

Thirdly, the BHS scandal is wreathed in the kind of opaque company structures loathed by voters on the left and right alike. The report found the Green family used private, offshore companies to direct the flow of money away from BHS, which made it in turn hard to investigate. The report stated: “These arrangements were designed to reduce tax bills. They have also had the effect of reducing levels of corporate transparency.”

BHS may have failed as a company, but its demise has succeeded in uniting the left and right. Trade unionists want more protection for workers; City boys are worried about their reputation; patriots mourn the death of a proud British company. May has a mandate to clean up capitalism - she should seize it.