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#OrchidsandOnions: Offering a helping hand

FNB: excellent advertising campaign must be backed up with action; dismal marketing failure by Nikon SA draws loud, angry response...

If only we were able to (legally) get together over dinner or a braai, the conversation would be dominated by Covid-19 and the ANC, much as crime used to be the hot topic.

There are two ways to stop any of those sorts of conversations dead in their tracks in South Africa.

The first: has anyone had a bad experience with a builder/electrician/plumber? I can almost guarantee everyone taking part in the conversation will have a horror story to recount about dealing with tradespeople.

Almost as good a silver bullet for halting discussion of crime, Covid-19 and the ANC (although they all seem to go together these days) is the other question: are you happy with your bank?

Again, I can almost guarantee everyone taking part will have butted heads with their bank or seen, close up, its incompetence in one way or another.

And you will find all of the major banks represented in the moaning stakes.

Given that, producing a commercial for a big bank means not only marketing the brand itself but also overcoming the huge cynicism which exists out there.

So FNB and its agency, Grid Worldwide, have their work cut out for them … especially in this strange, new pandemic-drive world.

#OrchidsandOnions: Offering a helping hand

The line they have taken is more than just a marketing angle, though – it’s actually almost a call for a new order in society.

And it all rests on the idea that people can help each other.

The latest in that series of commercials was shot by Greg Gray of Velocity Films, one of the legends in SA ad production. That, alone, shows FNB are serious – go big or go home. And you can see why Gray has the reputation he does.

The piece is shot in gritty, documentary style – there’s nothing from someone’s optimistic dream world here – but at the same time, it manages to capture that simple human kindness which we are going to need to get through not only Covid-19, but the destruction it has done to our economy and, in turn, to our very way of life.

The vignettes are all about people helping each other, proving the whole is bigger than the sum of the parts. The message is that the bank will be part of that new caring society and will help, too.

It’s the sort of thing I like to hear from my bank – and I bank with FNB.

(It is interesting to see the different approaches the banks have to their customers. My upgraded FNB debit card was delivered hand-to-hand by couriers a few weeks ago. But, when my Nedbank Mastercard credit card was renewed, I was told I would have to present myself physically at the branch to collect the new card.

Apparently, that has happened to quite a few Nedbank customers, including people who, health-wise, fall into the categories considered vulnerable to Covid-19 consequences. Interestingly, too, Nedbank said my American Express card was also ready for collection – despite the fact I cancelled it more than five years ago.)

In awarding FNB an Orchid for the latest ad (and one to Grid Worldwide and Greg Gray for bringing the concept to life so vividly), I must caution them that actions speak far louder, in customer relations terms, than the finest words or best videos.

Even as I was looking at the ad, I saw a post on Twitter from someone reporting that Wesbank (FNB’s vehicle finance division) had repossessed the only vehicle at a black-owned small business which has been hard hit by the lockdowns.

One has to wonder about Nikon South Africa: What were they thinking? The Japanese camera giant’s local operation got into a firestorm of abuse – and a threatened boycott of its products by those in the creative industry – after it announced it had appointed a group of “influencers” to punt one of its latest cameras.

Only one of the half-dozen chosen by Nikon was black and, in the video announcement, he was left with a nonspeaking part. At the same time, he has many, many more followers on Instagram and other social platforms.

Once the proverbial brown stuff hit the air circulation device, Nikon SA scrabbled around, putting out apologies and trying to put out fires.

They told one Twitter poster: “We hear you Zikhona, and we are sorry for the way in which this campaign was executed. These are important conversations. This is why we are reassessing our campaigns so that we can better reflect the wide and diverse range of talent in South Africa.”

The marketing question – and note I said marketing, not political or social – which remains is: why did this happen in the first place? Which tone-deaf manager signed off on this?

The marketing issue – which gets Nikon SA a fat Onion – is that its “brand ambassadors” come nowhere near to reflecting the diversity of the SA population.

When you ignore a potentially vast target market, then that’s bad marketing…

About Brendan Seery

Brendan Seery has been in the news business for most of his life, covering coups, wars, famines - and some funny stories - across Africa. Brendan Seery's Orchids and Onions column ran each week in the Saturday Star in Johannesburg and the Weekend Argus in Cape Town.

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