HSBC's bizarre lumberjack ad

John Swansburg, Associate Editor, says: [I wrote about] the truly bizarre new HSBC ad running on TV (and on YouTube). Have you seen it? It's the one that features a violent confrontation between police and environmental protesters who protecting trees marked for clearing. But then it turns into a love story between one of the protesters and a logger -- complete with a soundtrack by Joanna Newsom, of all people. And this is all by way of selling the services of an international banking conglomerate. Very weird.

Anyway, thought the ad might be something BoingBoing readers would have seen and scratched their heads over. Here's my analysis:

HSBC's Bizarre Lumberjack Ad


  1. He’s her husband/lover and he just bailed her out. They’re pointing out that different people in the same community might have different priorities and needs.

  2. Good analysis.

    I felt the same way when I saw the 90 second ad a month back. Very well shot, poignant storytelling without the use of dialogue, and then… HSBC?

    Maybe a good way to up HSBC brand recognition with the bloggies, but aside from that, the message is fuzzy at best.

  3. Personally when I first saw this add I was pretty confused as well. But it makes more sense (maybe?) if you think about as though the man is the woman’s significant other or father. The woman goes to his place of employment to raise a fuss about the trees and Disney’s Animal Kingdom when she gets hauled away by the fuzz he bails her out, again.

    I still don’t know what the fudge any of this has to do with banking though.

  4. I think it’s an excellent ad.

    As John Swansburg said in closing, the bank is simply trying to say that it appreciates different people have different ideas, and the bank respects their different viewpoints.

    And frankly, this is a lesson we all could learn. Particularly now, when the left and the right are battling it out so fiercely in America. I don’t doubt for a second that both sides think they are doing what’s best to save their country.

    What we have to remember in such fierce debates is that we are not battling people. This is not war, it is not personal. Both sides are battling the other side’s IDEAS.

    So at the end of the day, if both logger guy and protester girl can respect eachother’s rights to make up their own minds about IDEAS, then they can still love eachother as people.

    Take note, everyone.

  5. The message is… what?
    Looks like ad execs are using the formula:

    cinematic scope
    + hint of irony
    + warm and fuzzy
    = our message!

    I can imagine just about anything dropping its logo at the end. You earned your 6 figures, mad men.

  6. I felt similarly when I first saw it (just the other night in fact). HSBC seemed a very odd payoff for the commercial.

    Putting it in the context of being aimed at sophisticated investors and businesses doesn’t really make the connection any more obvious.

    If the loggers represent someone with a business interest in the protestor’s country, are they saying at the end that they’re in bed together and what’s really important is bail money?

  7. More stupid than bizarre. From the premise (even at the height of the Spotted Owl controversy, I can’t recall a single instance where cops scuffled with protestors and used dogs. SOP was to wait them out), to details (cops in black and whites? Try state troopers), to strategy (between environmental protestors and commercial loggers–whose side would an international bank take?), it sucks.

    Conceptual, executional FAIL.

  8. So she was actually a spy working for the logging company all along? Geez what a dirty trick.
    This has nothing to do with banking and everything to do with hippies needing better spy checks.

  9. my analysis: hong kong shanghai banking corporation wants us people to know they aren’t as cray-cray as such banking greats as wamu and wachovia. they approach an ad agency with this idea. ad agency says,
    “want to seem not crazy, how about this crazy ad idea, check it… this girl plays harp and sings all high and is crazy popular on pitchfork (it’s like rolling stone for you oldsters). You’ll get plenty of play for being outright strange on the interwebs and get lot’s a new money peeps openin’ accounts.”

    final verdict:
    predictable non-news item gets blog time, face time, impressions for the mega-corp.

    join a local credit union and … for lack of a better word, fuck the international banking system.

  10. oh, ps, my analysis was based on not watching the ad or reading the comments just reading the blurb. the content of the ad is immaterial, i’ve heard Ys and I’ve been on a conference call with Julia Butterfly-Hill.

  11. A commercial that makes you think and generate discussion, perhaps even independent of thinking about the sponsor. I say bravo!

    I wish more sponsors would go this route, and would think better of those that did.

  12. I am just pulling this out of you know where, but this ad seems like it was made and then sold to whatever company wanted it. It’s a good ad, but it doesn’t seem like something HSBC would commission you know?

    Anyone with an advertising background know if this sort of practice actually exists?

  13. I thought one line in the article summed it up best:

    You’ve just been given goosebumps by an international banking conglomerate—sucker!

    Absolutely on both counts — the cinematography, music and emotions definitely give goosebumps, and then you feel almost cheated at the end.

  14. Actually, now I remember seeing it for the first time. And when I saw the moped/bike I thought cool – what a great commercial for the moped/bike company! Then a moment thinking wtf, HSBC?

  15. I second Doug Nelson, this is the way corporate advertising should be done: , a true message, nice music, a good director and a post on Boing about it ;)

  16. another wiki
    “Clayoquot is the traditional anglicized name of the Tla-O-Qui-aht people. Three major First Nations groups inhabit Clayoquot: the Hesquiaht in the North, the Ahousaht in the middle, and the Tla-O-Qui-Aht in the south, focused on the village of Opitsaht on Meares Island. The village of Tofino lies opposite Opitsaht on the southern promontory of the entrance to the sound.

    [edit] Logging protests

    The sound has been a focal point for conflict between the forest industry and environmental protesters — both very weighty groups in British Columbia — particularly in the summer of 1993, when protesters responded to the 1993 ‘Clayoquot Land Use Decision’, made by the British Columbia government to permit the logging of the majority of the old growth forest in Clayoquot. Protestors engaged in a massive campaign of peaceful civil disobedience, including blocking access to logging sites, which resulted in over 850 arrests out of over 12,000 protesters. Activists blocked logging roads, established a ‘peace camp’ at the site and eventually gained the support of major organizations such as Greenpeace and the Sierra Club. Activist Australian rock group Midnight Oil also brought attention to the conflict when they performed an early morning concert at the site. The Land Use Decision still stands today.
    Midnight Oil at Clayoquot Sound

    The protests of 1993 remain the largest act of peaceful civil disobedience in Canadian History. Clayoquot Sound was designated a World Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 2000. This designation brought World recognition of the ecological importance of Clayoquot Sound, and a monetary fund to promote ecological economic alternatives. However, this designation brought no new environmental regulation or protection, nor did it bring an end to logging. The main things which changed is that the volume of trees logged has diminished greatly, and the logging is now done under the auspices of a First Nations consortium rather than by a multinational logging company.

  17. The message cuts right through all the well lived in partisanship that has been weighting us down for years now. This is kind of cleansing.

    Could it be that there are financiers who understand that there is better to do for the good of everyone, even their own, than screwing the poor guy? Well…

  18. Sometimes its hard to be a woman
    Giving all your love to just one man
    You’ll have bad times
    And he’ll have good times
    Doing things that you don’t understand
    But if you love him you’ll forgive him
    Even though he’s hard to understand
    And if you love him
    Oh be proud of him
    ‘Cause after all he’s just a man
    Stand by your man
    Give him two arms to cling to
    And something warm to come to
    When nights are cold and lonely
    Stand by your man
    And tell the world you love him
    Keep giving all the love you can
    Stand by your man
    Stand by your man
    And show the world you love him
    Keep giving all the love you can
    Stand by your man

    — Tammy Wynette

  19. yes it is an odd commercial. But did you notice the wrestling bear?

    check 37 seconds in.

    I think the bear really sums it all up. It symbolizes the uh.. the hunger and fierceness of the modern banker in this… this… police state that is our forest, our… global forest?

    There’s a wrestling bear!

  20. I do think the marketing works, their interest is in saying: “hay guys, i gets it!11 we live in this postmodern world where ideology is best left in the 20th century” in an accessible manner, and that’s sort of HSBC’s message in all their ads. Their ads in magazines (Forbes, Economist), is the same, but very concrete in their emphasis on fringe emerging markets.

    A well-done ad, I’d be interested to find out which agency made this.

  21. Ahh, so THIS is what they’ve been spending my bank charges on.

    Fair play, lads, but I would have liked a credit.

  22. Does it possibly strike anyone that it could be a slight justification for the fact that HSBC provides loans for two of the largest logging firms in the world and still tries to market itself as green (hence the ‘green sale’ they had a few months ago).

  23. This is totally viral! It’s a love story where opposites attract. The wife (she is wearing a wedding band in frame @ 123 sec.) is an environmentalist and her husband is a blue-collar worker.
    I second comments of doug Nelson @ #17

  24. “well, i totally can see her point. the dude is kinda hot in that rough, sweaty, lumberjacky way.”

    Needs more beard! (Cowbell..?)

  25. I’ve had better sequenced and far more logical dreams. Its like it was produced by one of those businessspeak scrambler/auto generators I’ve seen, except for the visual ad space. Disorienting.

  26. I think it’s her dad.

    Not unless she calls her dad by his first name: “Are you happy now, Henry? Huh?”

  27. The sad thing is that Hollywood, desperate for ideas, will make this into a feature length film starring Bruce Willis and Natalie Portman.

  28. HSBC always has the best (most entertaining) ads. I don’t think they’re aiming at me, the the run of the mill Salary Girl. I don’t know if they even do any retail banking here.

    The ads never flog banking services. Over the past few years they’ve always been fun little tidbits of cultural insights. (My favorite, which is still getting regular play on BBC and CNN here in Tokyo has a young eastern European man being sent to India to see why sales of his companies washing machines have skyrocketed there. The catchy Indian music always makes me stop what I’m doing and look.

    This logging ad is a departure from the “we know the world’s little quirks, so you don’t have to” message, but my first reaction, when catching the short was, WTF? Must see that again and pay attention next time! Hmmm. HSBC, does it again.”

  29. @ grimc:

    “Conceptual, executional FAIL.”

    I love how you DEMAND that it be FAIL. You – some guy on the Internet. Anything that generates as much discussion as this ad has is compelling. I agree that it’s utterly implausible, as are the majority of films, TV shows, radio and TV spots with any kind of narrative, books, comics, and practically anything else of a fictional nature.

    The persuasive ability of ads like this shouldn’t be measured with a phrenic yardstick. Sure, you’re too shrewdly informed to fall for it. Except for the fact that you’re ARDENTLY DISCUSSING it. I have ceased to be surprised by pseudo-surrealistic advertising. The HSBC logo at the end could just as easily have been replaced with that of Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, Gerber, Correctol, Zales, or Hertz. And in any case, it would still be effective marketing.

  30. Anyone remember the old Bugs Bunny skit where Wile E. Coyote and a sheep dog battled daily only to punch out for lunch or at the end of the day. While not on the clock they were buds.

  31. “He’s her husband/lover and he just bailed her out. They’re pointing out that different people in the same community might have different priorities and needs.”

    Well, of course he is! I can’t believe there’s any real confusion about that!

    I don’t care that this is an ad. It’s a stunning piece of storytelling. Everything about it is great. It’s perfect.

    The raid on the logging camp–in what recent film have you seen a scene that felt so true and was so well observed? ‘The Dark Knight’?

  32. @ TAKESHI

    I love how you DEMAND that it be FAIL.

    I don’t quite see how I “DEMAND” anything.

    You – some guy on the Internet.

    A “too shrewdly informed one”, mind you. I also work in advertising. Not that it makes me an expert, but maybe I’m even *more* shrewdly informed that you think. Scary, right?

    The HSBC logo at the end could just as easily have been replaced with that of Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, Gerber, Correctol, Zales, or Hertz. And in any case, it would still be effective marketing.

    Yes, the logo could just as easily have been replaced with that of another company. And that’s exactly why it *isn’t* effective marketing.

  33. Oh, I get it now. completely missed the, happy now henry, part. Its just that she looks too young, he looks like her father. Reminds me of a viagra ad where the dude is often a graying 50ish guy and the women is a younger hotter babe. Though this is always hypocritical of me, as I’m a graying 50+ yr old guy married to a younger hotter woman and most people think my kids are my grandchildren.

  34. I was thinking Great! Here’s an unusual but welcome focus on deforestation and logging. It was cute and Newsom makes things very sweet and lovable.

    Then I remembered it was an ad. And I threw up.

  35. So, on one hand the ad works because it generates interest and turns viral and gets the brand name out there.

    On the other hand the ad doesn’t work because it is confusing and doesn’t really have any resonable connection with the brand in question. As some have allready pointed out, this could be Diesel or Coke or allmost anything.

    Whether the protesting girl and Henry the logger are related by blood or just dating it is clear that they share both a past and a future togeather.
    Even though they evidently have nothing in common in terms of values or priorities.

    Both of them will most probably keep destroying whatever the other one holds dear until one of them eventually dies.
    Quite horrific, really.

    Maybe that’s what HSBC really wants to tell us: that there are no perfect relationships, or even decent relationships; your best hope is to partner up with someone that doesn’t compleatly repulse you.

    We are a bank. We’re not one of the worst ones so you might as well save yourself the trouble of looking any further. Plus we make cute little quirky ads.

  36. @ grimc:

    “I don’t quite see how I ‘DEMAND’ anything.”

    Nor do I see how it’s a FAIL – epic or elseways – merely because you SAY so. And by the way, the word “FAIL” doesn’t really carry as much weight as you might suspect. Ten year olds use it all the time. It’s snarky, but also glib, unremittingly hip, and utterly devoid of any real substance.

    “I also work in advertising. Not that it makes me an expert, but maybe I’m even *more* shrewdly informed that you think. Scary, right?”

    Not exactly. I half-expected you to say something along those lines, regardless of how accurate the claim is. To me, you’re just some pseudonymous guy on the Internet. I, too, have worked in advertising. See how easy that is? Perhaps I am more shrewdly informed than you think. Or perhaps not. Well, indisputably I am, but I’ll let you cling to your delusions of grandeur.

    I stand by my earlier assessment. Anything that generates a buzz is a success, be it minor, moderate, or extreme.

    “Yes, the logo could just as easily have been replaced with that of another company. And that’s exactly why it *isn’t* effective marketing.”

    Again, YOU don’t get to dictate that. Sorry. Think whatever you like. I’d be interested to know which tremendous feats of marketing you have masterminded that were any more successful. And maybe there have been a few. Who knows? The only thing I am certain of is that you are still just some guy, assailing an ad campaign online, to little effect. The reasons you’ve cited for its “failure” are unconvincing and utterly inconsequential, given the buzz it’s generated, however remarkable that buzz may seem to you.

    So, in brief, we’ll agree to disagree. That still doesn’t mean that you’re right. Judging from some of the positive (and negative) responses here, I’d say that you’re dead wrong. Such is life. Or, to put it another way, EPIC FAIL.

  37. They’ve had posters up in airports (and, perhaps, elsewhere) for the last 2 years that are part of the same campaign.

    They’ll be four pictures up in a row. Let’s say it’s: dog, cat, dog and cat. And under that it’ll say love, hate, hate, love. Or similar.

    Point being, different people identify with/like different things. And HSBC will take your money regardless.

  38. @ antinous

    As some have allready pointed out, this could be Diesel or Coke or allmost anything.

    Or Trojan

    You know, that way the ad would actually make MORE sense.

    I think the tagline at the end should be

    Trojan – because some people just should’nt have kids

    And then the ad would make its point regardless if you side with Henry or the girl, or weather you think they are lovers or a father and a daughter.

  39. As HSBC customer in two countries, I’ve never had anything except incredible customer service. I’m sympathetic to these ads that get at their acceptance of different customs and values, because I’ve found that they live up to this in the best possible way.

    And no, I’m not a PR agent for HSBC :)

  40. stunning, and yeah, non-partisan. far too complex to sell banking, though, but how wonderful it was made and exists.

  41. I agree bizarre ad but… I really liked how it recreated a sort of 70s film… made me think of a The Deer Hunter, Deliverance and Coal Miner’s Daughter sort of that texture… with some Day’s of Heaven thrown in for good measure…

  42. i guess most boingboing readers aren’t part of HSBC’s target audience. i though that was a great ad, but i agree it can be confusing to people who have not been bombarded with HSBC’s ad campaign. they have been doing a series of ads in print and tv for at least the past 6 years, with striking imagery focussing on how different points of view exist. their slogan is “the world’s local bank”. anyone who’s seen this campaign would get this ad, as #61 does.

    see the examples at

  43. Oddly enough, I saw this commercial a couple of times and really watched it AND remembered that it was for HSBC. I even thought about the commercial when I walked past an HSBC branch the other day. Usually I don’t notice or can’t remember which car company a commercial is even for, much less a bank.

    It reminds me of those “When E.F. Hutton talks, people listen” commercials, which could have been for any financial company but which worked anyway. I think it is successful.

  44. Great ad, goes well with the print campaign I’ve seen in airports. Not an HSBC customer, but next time I’m evaluating banks for a multinational conglomerate, I’ll remember them.

  45. The only things this ad actually does is aestheticize the failure of resistance so it looks like a nice, little, harmless package.

    When the woman embraces the man in the end, she is submitting to failure and resigning herself to the idea that we all must submit to our corporate overlords so we might as well learn to love and respect them as well. We might even be envious of the protester as those in disagreement around her even allow her to have her little protests and temper tantrums. We should all be lucky enough to have a husband/corporation that lets us have blow off some steam every once and a while as long as we realize it is just a phase that will pass eventually. The ad portrays the repressive social apparatus (police and dogs) as the scary and fearful entity but this is merely misdirection as we are tricked into viewing the banks and corporations as the alternative–as the good guys that let us have our little protest shenanigans.

    What a beautiful commercial!

  46. A friend of mine showed me this in a ‘holy shit this is surreal’ way, and it really is. It’s such an irritating moment at the end of the beautiful part when it’s suddenly about banking.

    Maybe this ad is more effective/emotional to those of who live in places like British Columbia, where I can recall issues surrounding logging and protests being discussed all the way back to my early childhood.

    Either way, it’s beautiful. I just cut it a few seconds earlier.

  47. Janne from Marketplace’s Greenwash Brigade blog suggests that:

    They know people view stories through their own lens, and hope that when we watch we’ll “see” them mirroring back our own values. If that’s the case, they’re trying to tell me that they’re a fan of environmental protection (while also maintaining respect for local economic activities).

    In this interpretation, they’re actually abdicating all values, while trying to appeal to the values of potential customers. One of those interpretations is a sustainable one. If this is their game, it’s greenwash, because by the very nature of this scenario, the other values they’re transmitting (law and order, local economics trump the environment) are opposing values.

    -Joellen (Marketplace)

  48. I get it. People who think different from me are clearcutting the economy,and we are waiting for a bailout.

  49. Dear Banking People,

    Please stop using the money you should be using to back loans on a dadaist marketing department.

    Thank you.

  50. Well, I can’t deny that this is a rather innovative advertisement, I have to give it some points.

    But damn, I could really do without the violence. I don’t know why it bothers me so much…something about the soft soothing music makes it feel like it’s making light of it. Other than that, it is certainly a memorable ad, and what more can an ad aspire to than to be memorable?

  51. I just love focus groups.

    In a time of angry social division and mistrust, here’s a nicely told love story from a bank who wants seem more understanding.

    And yet all the geniuses at slate care about is that there’s no direct link to banking. Really? So what we all need is more straightforward more boring advertising in the world? Yeah, that would make TV lots better.

    Here’s what happens when we let otherwise well meaning people decide what is a good ad.

  52. I think the message is “we’re all f#cked”– we hate chopping down the trees, but we have no choice as the human race expands beyond what the Earth can sustain. Everything I do on a daily basis contributes to the ruining of the planet: driving my car, buying mass-produced consumer goods, throwing out garbage. I’m sure that wasn’t their intended message, but that’s what I got out of it.

    “there’s no end in sight. . . for the hamburger lady.”– Throbbing Gristle

  53. I have seen it but not heard it, and I have not yet read the comments above.

    I had no idea it was a love story, father/daughter seemed likely from the video alone (although I am a poor judge of relative age).

    Anyone who like this ad, or what I think they were trying to say with it should read up on Judi Bari. She did so much to bring the loggers and the protesters (who have more in common than they have differences) together during her too short life.

  54. Been thinking about this ad a bit…

    It’s kind of saying that a bank is not in the morality business and will do business and understand both sides of a conflict… and that’s kind of bothersome… where would HSBC draw the line? right wing dictators and arms manufacturers?

    I thought… how would this ad play if instead of the lumber situation you had the David Koresh Waco standoff… creepy no?

  55. @ racerx_is_alive

    “Wouldn’t it be appropriate if takeshi and grimc went home together at the end of the day?”

    Too funny. We both work in advertising (wink, wink) so it would never work out. But maybe you could go home with Speed Racer or a Pikachu or something.

  56. Should you decide to open an account with HBSC, let me forewarn you. Though the interest they pay on their “Personal Online Saving” account is great and have the strongest log-in I’ve encounter to date, they only use a two column ledger which is difficult to follow.

    HBSC doesn’t provide automatic transfer from savings to checking to cover shortages, though you can apply for a standing loan that will kick in should your checking account come up short (for a very high interest rate), but only if they feel you qualify (good lucky on that happening).

    Should you screw up and not transfer money from your savings to checking you will be assessed a insufficient fee of $35.00 for each incident. If you call them up and ask nicely, they’ll remove the first one, but no more than the first one.

    I had my first one a couple of months ago. This week, though I thought I was very careful, I ended up with two more. Now I’m out of $70.00, twice what I would make interest this year, though I have to pay taxes on interest, I can’t deduct the fees.

    I’ve pointed out the flaws of their system (ledger, auto transfers) to no avail. So consider yourself warned.

  57. The message is:
    go on ahead and cut down the trees.
    Stand by passively and allow the forces of repression to brutalize your daughter/girlfriend, she’ll forgive you anyway.
    Environmentalists will have their little tantrums won’t they?
    Chainsaws and Harleys are soo sexy and will make up for your lack of intellect and loyalty.
    HSBC Heres Some Bull Chit

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