Peter York On Ads: No patriots please, we're HSBC... So global, it gets your goat

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The Independent Online

A grand friend once described a politician he knew as a suburban patriot. He meant a nice enough man, well intentioned, but limited by the misfortune of a Pooterish background that persisted in his Queen-and-Countryishness – and his rather Jag-and-golf-club style.

My friend is a natural internationalist – always meeting fascinating foreigners who turn out to be much like him – internationalists with degrees earned on different continents. He is epically snobbish about any whiff of nationalist sentiment and collects put-down names for suburban patriots in every language (he particularly likes "poujadiste"). Suburban patriots, he implies, have been behind every loony right-wing movement.

But I keep on having suburban patriotic moments at unlikely times. In smart internationalist company, I ask people where their home town is. They absolutely hate the idea of home towns. Local is parochial.

Global companies know how national brands shape product brands when it comes to making things – premium cars from Germany, fashion from Italy – but service and corporate brands are becoming keen to distance themselves from any heavy-handed nation-statism. They want to look like those Unicef cards high-minded people used to send of Children of All Nations, rather badly painted.

God knows where HSBC (Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation) considers its home town. It's sort of 19th-century Anglo-colonial Chinese in origin, but it's global now and doesn't want to be seen as too rooted, though it's No 1 in the FTSE 100.

HSBC used to own something called the Midland Bank – what more hopelessly provincial name could you imagine? – phased out in favour of HSBC's quadruple diamond logo.

It's a huge business – one of the few vaguely British giants – but its international advertising has internationalness as its theme.

Its new ad features Arab goatherds, pink English schoolgirls in red blazers, engaging Africans in tree houses, and a colourful Indian couple keen on fertility. The big question, "What do trees mean to you?", is put by actor Michael Gambon in the voiceover. The girls have clever answers – exotic foreigners are deep – and the goatherd sees trees as grazing, as his goats are standing in the branches.

I love goats up trees as much as the next man, but the whole thing reminds me of why I like mad suburban patriot Peter Hitchens more than his smart Manhattan brother Christopher.

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