HSBC poses 'Open Questions' in major rebrand of global airport marketing

The bank worked on new worldwide brand platform with WPP's Team Helix

Published On
Sep 26, 2022
airport billboard of older woman playing guitar and young girl on phone

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HSBC is rolling out a new brand platform across its airport signage worldwide, based around the theme of "Open Questions," in a major marketing exercise that involves eight international airports. 

The banking giant, which has contracts with the U.K.'s Heathrow and Gatwick airports, Singapore, Toronto, Vancouver, Dubai, Hong Kong and Shanghai for branding and ads on outdoor billboards, jet bridges and more, is undergoing the first major refresh since 2018.

WPP's "Team Helix," consisting of Wunderman Thompson on creative, design teams at Superunion and Grey and H+K on social media, worked on the project. The platform uses a series of broad questions to spark debate on some of the biggest issues facing the world, including sustainability, diversity and inclusion, with the questions posed against different images sourced from the likes of Getty and Magnum. Examples include "Can we live more with less?" "Where will you go if everywhere is open?" and "Can we do greater things by thinking smaller?"

Altogether there are 150 questions so far, but the global campaign can be adjusted locally with different images, given that the questions resonate differently with different markets. 

Jet bridge ad mockup with bees asking CAN WE DO GREATER THINGS BY THINKING SMALLER?

"There are almost an infinite number of stories that we can tell," said Jonathan Castleman, global head of brand and brand partnerships at HSBC, in an interview with Ad Age. "The idea was that we created this at a group level so we had consistentcy, and the markets then say what is relevant for them."

The questions, added Castleman, address "things that are important to us globally but through a flavor that is really relevant locally."

For example, he added, one question, "where can we go where everywhere is open?" with an image of a woman diving into a lake, could be about places opening up post-Covid. But with a different image, for example a man with a wheelchair on a beach, it could be about "how do we remove barriers to inclusion?"

According to Becky Moffat, chief marketing officer at HSBC U.K., the platform is a "toolkit" that can be used in different markets and channels. "Within the U.K. airports, we use a set that ties into the overall unique challenges of the U.K. but aligns with the overall world of HSBC as a global bank as well," she said.

ad on exterior wall of UK airport with 3 young women walking in a street with question-Is home where you're from or where you're going

The "Open Questions" platform was developed following an exercise that HSBC undertook around its brand purpose, which led it to the idea of "opening up a world of opportunity," said Castleman, together with its business strategy of being "the preferred international partner" to its clients. It replaces the previous tagline of "Together we thrive." 

HSBC billboard ads in Dubai airport asking Are we shaped by society?

The platform had to be "flexible and scalable," he said. As well as airports, it will also be used in some other international marketing; the Open Questions theme has already been used around some global marketing events, such as Wimbledon, and on social channels.

However, the airport campaign is a major logistical undertaking. HSBC has been advertising in airports for over 20 years and reviews the strategy around every three years. According to Castleman, the changes are complex and involve 16,000 square meters of vinyl, all of which has to be specially fire retardant, long-lasting and approved to run at each airport, as well as "as sustainable as possible" from HSBC's point of view. While a global shortage of such vinyl has delayed some of the roll-out, HSBC aims it to be in all eight airports by January.