Forward Looking or Tired and Reactionary? Welcome to the Faux Community Site

By | November 16, 2005

You’re familiar with the faux blog — a blog launched by a marketing company to look like a grassroots blog to promote a product, but actually maintained by PR drones. Naff is probably the word that springs to mind. But how about the faux community site? What word springs to mind when you visit, a website set up by marketing company JWT on behalf of HSBC? Despite all the flash (and there’s lots of it), it seems to be community-oriented, interested in your point of view on gorillas, organic food, sports fans and the like.

Your point of view is sought, sort of. Click on a window and another window pops up, letting you select from a drop down list of choices (no, you can’t type anything in) and then you’re taken to another window where you have to register and then offer some personal information (approach to life? realist/optimist/surrealist/pessimist) and then it goes on. Call it a survey pretending to be interested in you, so long as your choices are listed among their choices. So what’s the point?

“We’re sort of teasing out differences,” said JWT worldwide creative director Craig Davis. “The bank has always considered itself a sensitive organization, kind of a guest in different countries.” Davis added: “This is about the HSBC brand and its point of view. It’s living proof of the values of the brand.”

I have no idea about what ‘teasing out differences’ means. But if Davis is being quoted correctly, it sounds like the site has less to do with your point of view, and more to do with HSBC’s. I suppose it’s an attempt to show how sensitive HSBC is to everyone’s point of view, so long as you’ve got a high speed connection, and your views aren’t so extreme they loosely match with HSBC’s choices. You can’t help wondering whether these guys have looked at the Internet since 2000. We’ve moved on, fellas.

Especially when you find out the cost. This is part of a $300 million advertising campaign by JWT and 30 sister agencies, and while the TV ads are award-winning, imaginative and genuinely thought-provoking — looking at things like wind farms, an elderly Asian woman, adding descriptions that are polar opposites, but could be apposite — it’s scary to see how dated the web site itself looks. Blogs have long since made such attempts to woo customers and custom look ham-fisted and, well, phony. Even if they spent only 10% of that $300 million on the website, it’s still a ridiculous amount of money. Set up a blog, guys, and listen to the people. I’m pretty sure that if you asked them, they’d have plenty to say about HSBC, and banking in general. You might not like what they say, but it might help you build a better product.

HSBC aren’t alone in these kind of faux outreach programs. Chevron has also had a marketing blitz around its website, which at least looks and feels, when you get past the graphics, to be a place where people can leave their opinions on the future of energy. I’m sure there are more. Welcome to the future, or is it the past?

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