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10 lessons every business can learn from FNB Featured

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10 lessons every business can learn from FNB

Not every business has the budget or inclination to run a brand campaign. But there are some useful learnings for businesses of any size from the FNB You Can Help debacle. Whether or not you agree with the idea of big business wading into politics, it’s hard not to escape the conclusion that this campaign completely ran away with one of South Africa’s savviest marketers and left anger, misunderstanding and confusion in its wake.


No marketer ever wants to be in a situation like that unless it’s for very good reason (see lessons 5 and 6). Here’s how to avoid it:


Lesson 1: Have a clear objective

Was FNB’s objective purely to inspire the nation? Or did it want to attract business? Did it want to trigger debate? Or just have everyone feel better about life? The “switch to FNB” message in the middle of a campaign that seemed to focus on being more socially responsible was confusing and sent out mixed messages.


Lesson 2: Align your communication objectives with your creative execution

FNB’s stated objective for this campaign was to inspire the nation and help South Africans find the greatness within. But in practice, this message did not come through. The live ad featuring a schoolgirl reciting an impassioned speech was too negative, and the highly political tone of the supporting video clips on the website focused attention on lack of government delivery rather than our power as individuals to make a difference. Initially, the campaign achieved the opposite of what it set out to do – by reminding us of exactly what frustrates and depresses us.


Lesson 3: Don’t set up expectations you can’t deliver on

Calling a campaign “You can help” sets up certain expectations, especially when you launch it with a teaser campaign and then an unprecedented live broadcast across multiple channels. The website felt like a letdown after this – it simply doesn’t deliver on the promise.


Lesson 4: Look at your campaign through someone else’s eyes

One of my roles as a strategist was to play devil’s advocate, looking for any possible reason that someone might feel offended by an ad, and formulating scenarios to manage any potential fallout. It’s all too easy for agencies and clients to lose sight of how a piece of communication might look to others who haven’t been part of the process, and won’t understand the thinking that went into it.


Lesson 5: Controversy only makes sense for certain brands

Nando’s is a brand with a long and distinguished history of making satirical ads that talk as much about South African society and culture as they do about chicken. In contrast, FNB’s brushes with controversy (like those of Woolworths) are accidental. Both are mainstream brands whose values don’t sit well with ruffling feathers.


Lesson 6: If you’re going to use controversy, be strategic

Many advertisers think that being controversial or offensive is a way to attract publicity. But if you’re going to risk being hauled before the ASA, do it for the right reasons. Angering people for the sake of a bit of coverage is a short term strategy and not recommended unless it’s relevant to your target audience or your brand.


Lesson 7: Yes, there is such a thing as bad publicity

FNB generated what must amount to millions in coverage as a result of this campaign. But it was for all the wrong reasons, and in focusing on the ANC’s response to the campaign, it undermined what the bank was ostensibly trying to achieve with it.


Lesson 8: Use social media to get your message out

When news reports suggested that FNB CEO Michael Jordaan was planning to resign, he turned to Twitter to put out a message in his words: “I am not resigning as CEO of the world’s most innovative bank”. And when The New Age put out an inaccurate story, they were able to tackle misperceptions directly without having to rely on the media to put the message out. FNB did look like a deer caught in the headlights for a while, but when they did use Twitter to clarify their position, it made a real impact.


Lesson 9: Check, check. And check again.

When deadlines loom and you’re dealing with a campaign with multiple elements, it’s easy to lose track of what you’re putting out into the world with your logo attached to it. Most of the time it’s nothing more embarrassing than a typo, but sometimes the consequences can be much more serious. Don’t leave anything to chance.


Lesson 10: Employ people who are able to exercise good judgment

Senior management don’t have the time to check and double check – so they have to trust the people they employ to do that for them. Exactly who thought it was a good idea to post highly political video clips onto a brand campaign site when FNB has had previous run-ins with the government, and the ANC is notoriously sensitive to criticism, isn’t clear. What is obvious is that somebody someone somewhere in the process made a judgment call, and it was a bad one. Senior management had to take the flak for trusting people who shouldn’t have put them in that position in the first place.

Sarah Britten

Sarah Britten

Dr Sarah Britten is a communication strategist and writer. She partners with WHAM! Media as well as a new shopper marketing agency to be launched shortly. You can find her on Twitter .



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