by Oresti Patricios (@orestaki) This is not the ad of the week, because how could I do an ‘ad of the week’ and ignore the elephant in the room?

Instead, there is a troubled country. A bank. And a campaign that saw this financial brand being accused of treason.

How did South Africa get to a point where The Presidency would feel the need to express its disappointment in First National Bank’s “How can we help” campaign?

Just before seven on the evening of Thursday 17 January 2013, FNB did something bold. It launched a massive new brand campaign with a live fnb ad you can help broadcast to South Africans from Naledi Secondary School, a place of learning that played a pivotal role during the anti-apartheid uprisings of 1976.

The campaign was based on a massive survey that the bank had done. In September last year FNB, famous for the brand’s How can we help you? pay-off line, went to South Africa’s youth to investigate what the verb ‘help’ meant to the youngsters of this country. An independent research company did the survey.

“We spoke to over 1300 learners and students (ages 10 to 22) from around the country and from all walks of life. We learnt that today’s youth are losing their innocence, not to apartheid, but to the many social ills and tragedies that came after it. One child said, ‘If I was President for a day, I would make South Africa safe for children, women and teens who are abused.’ Another 10-year-old boy added the following, ‘I get scared when people are killing each other’,” FNB said in a statement to launch the campaign.

The progressive bank says although much of what the survey uncovered, admittedly, was tough to hear, there was hopefulness. “Our youth carry inside them a fire that burns with hope and positivity. Their sense of identity is astounding, and they have an unprecedented interest in working as a community to improve our society and environment,” FNB added.

The responses were heart-warming: A 12 year old said: “When we help people, we make them feel like they’re somebody.” Another reflected: “If we help each other, we raise our country.” A wise learner of 10 stated: “In the future I want to live in South Africa… I know South Africa is full of crime, but if I didn’t live here I don’t know who I would be.” A 15 year old said: “We help each other because we are one blood, one soul.” A 13 year old declared: “If we don’t help each other, who will help us?”

The broadcast went out and children stood up to express their hopes and dreams and fears. To back up the campaign, FNB had a site as well as social media footprints on Facebook and Twitter. (#littlehelps).

“The intention of the campaign is not to talk about ourselves, but rather to be a brand for betterment by providing the youth of our country with a stage to voice what impacts the daily reality of many South Africans through the lens of our brand’s core positioning of ‘Help’,” Bernice Samuels, FNB Chief Marketing Officer, explained. The thinking was to listen to the voices that are seldom heard – those of this country’s children.

To sum up FNB’s intent, as the campaign launched, Nelson Mandela’s sentiments were quoted: “If there are dreams about a beautiful South Africa, there are also roads that lead to their goal. Two of these roads could be named Goodness and Forgiveness.”

The content of the ad showed SA youth making comments on the nation’s political situation. The ruling party were deeply offended by the campaign as was The Presidency. Yes, we all know that the advert has been a massive political issue, and context is everything, but let us try and look at the marketing, brand and creative merits of this campaign first.

Before the political brouhaha which has evoked a whole range of emotions to the ad – from anger to fear, and more politically measured responses – came what I believe was more authentic, emotive responses. There was a genuine bristle of excitement ahead of the airing of the ads. The campaign certainly created a massive buzz.

My immediate response was emotional. I was deeply moved by the ad, thought it had a great message and that it positioned the bank well. My immediate response on Twitter: Oresti Patricios ‏@Orestaki : “#youcanhelp Great emotional Live ad from @fnb We will put it in the @OrnicoMedia YouTube channel tomorrow. #buildSALet’s help each other”

This sentiment was echoed by a slew of other commentators on Twitter: RefilweMolatlhiwa‏ @Fifi_Mo : “Nice one FNB. Well heard. #YouCanHelp”

Patrick. T Chauke‏ @PatrickChaukeZA : “When you help someone, they can help someone, who in turn helps someone, we can be a greater nation #youcanhelp #FNB”

Pierre Schroeder ‏@Mnr_Schroeder : “Wow!! What a brave girl, and let’s stand up just like she did and start helping! #youcanhelp”

cherylann smith ‏@mylifescape : “@thirdsaturnmoon: Watching first live ad ever #youcanhelp well done @NatalieHuddle — awesome!”

CeeKayMabaso‏ @CeeKayFreshh : “Guys ad is an Fnb initiative, congrats to the CEO of Fnb @MichaelJordaan for adding value to our country. Great work !!”

Ntobey Arlie Ngwenya‏ @NtObeyOfficial : “It was worth the wait! :D “It’s time for us to remember who we are” #YouCanHelp #FNB RT @RbjacobsNtObey You’ll need to tune in to see :D RB”

As the political storm continues and polarises opinions and divides our society, I think we need to remember the original intent of this campaign and our genuine, reflexive responses. We all want a better country, let’s follow FNB’s suggestion and do what we can to help, rather than stagnating in circular rhetoric. This is a time for good men and women to take action. Let’s rise up and help. In our homes, our communities, our schools, our churches, our families, our businesses, our agencies let’s each do what we can to build, to change for the better, to contribute. Let’s each ask “How can we help?”

For more see MarkLives and TheMediaOnline

Ad of the Week is published on MarkLives every Wednesday. See past selections here.
Oresti Patricios is the CEO of brand and reputation analysis company Ornico.

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