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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Why the Psychoactive Substances Act is much better than anyone will admit

Under the Psychoactive Substances Act it will not be a criminal offence for someone to possess for their own consumption recreational drugs too dangerous to be legally sold to the public.

From Thursday, it may be illegal for churches to use incense. They should be safe from prosecution though, because, as the policing minister was forced to clarify, the mind-altering effects of holy smells aren’t the intended target of the Psychoactive Substances Act, which comes into force this week.

Incense-wafters aren’t the only ones wondering whether they will be criminalised by the Act. Its loose definition of psychoactive substances has been ridiculed for apparently banning, among other things, flowers, perfume and vaping.

Anyone writing about drugs can save time by creating a shortcut to insert the words “the government has ignored its advisors” and this Act was no exception. The advisory council repeatedly warned the government that its definition would both ban things that it didn’t mean to prohibit and could, at the same time, be unenforcable. You can guess how much difference these interventions made.

But, bad though the definition is – not a small problem when the entire law rests on it – the Act is actually much better than is usually admitted.

Under the law, it will not be a criminal offence for someone to possess, for their own consumption, recreational drugs that are considered too dangerous to be legally sold to the public.

That sounds like a mess, and it is. But it’s a mess that many reformers have long advocated for other drugs. Portugal decriminalised drug possession in 2001 while keeping supply illegal, and its approach is well-regarded by reformers, including the Liberal Democrats, who pledged to adopt this model in their last manifesto.

This fudge is the best option out of what was politically possible for dealing with what, until this week, were called legal highs.

Before the Act, high-street shops were free to display new drugs in their windows. With 335 head shops in the UK, the drugs were visible in everyday places – giving the impression that they couldn’t be that dangerous. As far as the data can be trusted, it’s likely that dozens of people are now dying each year after taking the drugs.

Since legal highs were being openly sold and people were thought to be dying from them, it was obvious that the government would have to act. Until it did, every death would be blamed on its inaction, even if the death rate for users of some newly banned drugs may be lower than it is for those who take part in still-legal activities like football. The only question was what the government would do.

The most exciting option would have been for it to incentivise manufacturers to come up with mind-altering drugs that are safe to take. New Zealand is allowing drug makers to run trials of psychoactive drugs, which could eventually – if proved safe enough – be sold legally. One day, this might change the world of drug-taking, but this kind of excitement was never going to appeal to Theresa May’s Home Office.

What was far more plausible was that the government would decide to treat new drugs like old ones. Just as anyone caught with cocaine or ecstasy faces a criminal record, so users of new drugs could have been hit with the same. This was how legal highs have been treated up until now when one was considered serious enough to require a ban.

But instead, the government has recognised that its aim – getting new drugs out of high-street shop windows so they don’t seem so normal – didn’t depend on criminalising users. A similar law in Ireland achieved precisely this. To its credit, the government realised it would be disproportionate to make it a criminal offence to possess the now-illegal highs.

The reality of the law will look chaotic. Users will still be able to buy new drugs online – which could open them to prosecution for import – and the law will do nothing to make drugs any safer. Some users might now be exposed to dealers who also want to sell them more dangerous other drugs. There will be few prosecutions and some head shop owners might try to pick holes in the law: the government seems to have recognised that it needed a better definition to have any chance of making the law stick.

But, most importantly for those of us who think the UK’s drug laws should be better at reducing the damage drugs cause, the government, for the first time, has decided that a class of recreational drugs are too dangerous to be sold but that it shouldn’t be a crime to possess them. The pressure on the government to act on legal highs has been relieved, without ordinary users being criminalised. For all the problems with the new law, it’s a step in the right direction.

Leo Barasi is a former Head of Communications at the UK Drug Policy Commission. He writes in a personal capacity