HSBC Canada’s strategic and creative victory

A new approach puts a witty face on a global brand

HSBC leadHSBC has been subtly shifting its marketing approach in Canada for the last few years, presenting its banking offerings in a wittier more approachable way. It’s a difficult position to build — HSBC had previously been seen as a global brand with a comparatively niche presence in Canada.

But the strategy is paying off. Not only has HSBC been effective in reaching new consumers, its strategies were recently named best-in-class by the expert juries of brand builders at the 2019 Canadian Marketing Awards.

The integrated Retail Banking and Wealth Management Marketing team at the bank brought home three trophies from this year’s CMA gala: golds in the Customer Experience and Business Impact categories, and a bronze in Engagement. The work covers a wide range of tactics and disciplines.


The gold-winning “Welcome Mat,” for example, created a giant mat the size of three football fields directly below the flight path of incoming flights so those flying into the country could see its “Welcome” message before landing at Toronto’s Pearson Airport.


“Let’s Meet 1 on 26” (another gold winner) demonstrated global market expertise by having investment experts from international markets creatively appear in meetings with prospective clients, chatting with Canadians in real time.


And the pop-up “Advance Opera” performance that won bronze differentiated the HSBC Advance account from competitors’ products for unsuspecting Torontonians.

“Canada’s financial market is incredibly competitive,” says Larry Tomei, Head of Canada – Retail Banking & Wealth Management for HSBC. “Banks are spending a lot to build their brand, so breaking through with a fraction of the big five’s budgets is a challenge. In our view, we can offer what the Canadian banks can and much more. So we needed to become more approachable to demonstrate how we can improve people’s lives.”

Even though HSBC has been a force in banking globally for over 150 years, and has been operating in this country since 1981, “it needs to take on a challenger mentality in order to punch above our weight and to stand out in this competitive marketplace,”says Cindy Wong, Regional Head of Marketing for North America. “We have a world-class brand where we believe that we exist to help people, communities and businesses thrive, and not simply survive. This is the promise our brand makes to all — together we thrive. So, we want people to see the work and take notice, so that we can truly help Canadian thrive.”

To do so, the marketing team is shaking things up internally. It’s shifting the way its teams work with agency partners to be more agile, which means spotting market trends faster, brainstorming solutions more frequently and building tighter, more transparent collaborations.

“We will never have the budgets to outspend our competitors,” Wong says. “We need to be clever with our tone of voice and find new ways to make an impact. Our goal is to connect with Canadians in more distinctive, memorable, and meaningful ways.”

Internal metrics show this new way of doing business is working. The brand has gained more traction and with a wider array of Canadians than in years past. The CMA trophies mark a successful end to campaigns that have moved HSBC’s business in Canada in a positive direction.