HSBC ‘not an island’ ads spark row over whether they are anti-Brexit

Poster ads by HSBC appearing in four cities in the U.K. have been questioned by some in the country for stating: “We are not an island.”

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Another, Tim Montgomerie, who identifies himself as a Brexiteer on Twitter, wrote: “We are an island actually — full of villages and towns your bank deserted; of cleaners you underpaid; and of money laundering and other laws you bent. Brexit etc was a response to the economy you helped decimate. Thanks for the lecture but we’ll manage without it.”

HSBC paid nearly $2 billion in fines in 2012 for allowing Mexican drug cartels to launder money and in 2017 closed dozens of bank branches in the U.K., which it said reflected declining use.

Versions of the ad, part of HSBC’s “Global Citizen” marketing initiative created by agency JWT, appear in London, Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester, according to ad industry magazine Campaign. The “Together we thrive” line is the first slogan the bank has had since its long-running “The world’s local bank” tagline was dropped in 2011.

The version appearing in Leeds states that the town is part of “the fabric of the nation,” to which one person on Twitter responded “well played.”

HSBC’s “Global Citizen” marketing campaign launched in the U.K. last year with comedian Richard Ayoade narrating a variety of situations in a TV ad that showed the international character of the country. Standing on a bridge, he notes the German and Japanese cars on the freeway below, and then visits a home where children are watching American movies on their Korean-brand tablets.

An HSBC spokesperson told CNBC in an emailed statement Tuesday: “We believe that the people, communities and businesses in the U.K. thrive most when connected and open. Our ‘Global Citizen’ campaign is central to this, and with the ‘We are not an island’ advert we are reinforcing our strong belief that the things that make us quintessentially British are the things that make us inescapably international.”

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