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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Arsène Wenger: how can an intelligent manager preside over such a hollowed-out team?

The Arsenal manager faces a frustrating legacy.

Sport is obviously not all about winning, but it is about justified hope. That ­distinction has provided, until recently, a serious defence of Arsène Wenger’s Act II – the losing part. Arsenal haven’t won anything big for 13 years. But they have been close enough (and this is a personal view) to sustain the experience of investing emotionally in the story. Hope turning to disappointment is fine. It’s when the hope goes, that’s the problem.

Defeat takes many forms. In both 2010 and 2011, Arsenal lost over two legs to Barcelona in the Champions League. Yet these were rich and rewarding sporting experiences. In the two London fixtures of those ties, Arsenal drew 2-2 and won 2-1 against the most dazzling team in the world. Those nights reinvigorated my pride in sport. The Emirates Stadium had the best show in town. Defeat, when it arrived in Barcelona, was softened by gratitude. We’d been entertained, more than entertained.

Arsenal’s 5-1 surrender to Bayern Munich on 15 February was very different. In this capitulation by instalments, the fascination was macabre rather than dramatic. Having long given up on discerning signs of life, we began the post-mortem mid-match. As we pored over the entrails, the curiosity lay in the extent of the malady that had brought down the body. The same question, over and over: how could such an intelligent, deep-thinking manager preside over a hollowed-out team? How could failings so obvious to outsiders, the absence of steel and resilience, evade the judgement of the boss?

There is a saying in rugby union that forwards (the hard men) determine who wins, and the backs (the glamour boys) decide by how much. Here is a footballing equivalent: midfielders define matches, attacking players adorn them and defenders get the blame. Yet Arsenal’s players as good as vacated the midfield. It is hard to judge how well Bayern’s playmakers performed because they were operating in a vacuum; it looked like a morale-boosting training-ground drill, free from the annoying presence of opponents.

I have always been suspicious of the ­default English critique which posits that mentally fragile teams can be turned around by licensed on-field violence – a good kicking, basically. Sporting “character” takes many forms; physical assertiveness is only one dimension.

Still, it remains baffling, Wenger’s blind spot. He indulges artistry, especially the mercurial Mesut Özil, beyond the point where it serves the player. Yet he won’t protect the magicians by surrounding them with effective but down-to-earth talents. It has become a diet of collapsing soufflés.

What held back Wenger from buying the linchpin midfielder he has lacked for many years? Money is only part of the explanation. All added up, Arsenal do spend: their collective wage bill is the fourth-highest in the League. But Wenger has always been reluctant to lavish cash on a single star player, let alone a steely one. Rather two nice players than one great one.

The power of habit has become debilitating. Like a wealthy but conservative shopper who keeps going back to the same clothes shop, Wenger habituates the same strata of the transfer market. When he can’t get what he needs, he’s happy to come back home with something he’s already got, ­usually an elegant midfielder, tidy passer, gets bounced in big games, prone to going missing. Another button-down blue shirt for a drawer that is well stuffed.

It is almost universally accepted that, as a business, Arsenal are England’s leading club. Where their rivals rely on bailouts from oligarchs or highly leveraged debt, Arsenal took tough choices early and now appear financially secure – helped by their manager’s ability to engineer qualification for the Champions League every season while avoiding excessive transfer costs. Does that count for anything?

After the financial crisis, I had a revealing conversation with the owner of a private bank that had sailed through the turmoil. Being cautious and Swiss, he explained, he had always kept more capital reserves than the norm. As a result, the bank had made less money in boom years. “If I’d been a normal chief executive, I’d have been fired by the board,” he said. Instead, when the economic winds turned, he was much better placed than more bullish rivals. As a competitive strategy, his winning hand was only laid bare by the arrival of harder times.

In football, however, the crash never came. We all wrote that football’s insane spending couldn’t go on but the pace has only quickened. Even the Premier League’s bosses confessed to being surprised by the last extravagant round of television deals – the cash that eventually flows into the hands of managers and then the pockets of players and their agents.

By refusing to splash out on the players he needed, whatever the cost, Wenger was hedged for a downturn that never arrived.

What an irony it would be if football’s bust comes after he has departed. Imagine the scenario. The oligarchs move on, finding fresh ways of achieving fame, respectability and the protection achieved by entering the English establishment. The clubs loaded with debt are forced to cut their spending. Arsenal, benefiting from their solid business model, sail into an outright lead, mopping up star talent and trophies all round.

It’s often said that Wenger – early to invest in data analytics and worldwide scouts; a pioneer of player fitness and lifestyle – was overtaken by imitators. There is a second dimension to the question of time and circumstance. He helped to create and build Arsenal’s off-field robustness, even though football’s crazy economics haven’t yet proved its underlying value.

If the wind turns, Arsène Wenger may face a frustrating legacy: yesterday’s man and yet twice ahead of his time. 

Ed Smith is a journalist and author, most recently of Luck. He is a former professional cricketer and played for both Middlesex and England.

This article first appeared in the 24 February 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The world after Brexit