Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Blogging and Logging

Perhaps you've seen the ad on television. The one about logging. The one with the police and the protesters and the loggers. For reasons that are far from being self-evident, the ad is trying to convince us to bank at the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank Corporation. To you and me, that's HSBC.

HSBC, the global banking colossus, is rebranding itself for the new globalized marketplace. Considering that it is one of the best-run banks in the world, you would have thought that it could have played up its strengths. If the ad is any indication forging cross-cultural connections is not one of them.

The ad begins with a group of environmentalists, affectionately called tree-huggers. Literally. They have invaded a logging site and have tied themselves to the trees. They are trying to save the trees from the indignity of being turned into newsprint, currency, and greeting cards.

Ominously, a convoy of police cars arrives. The officers jump from their vehicles and forcibly remove the tree-huggers. Several are taken off to jail. Then the loggers go to work.

In a final dramatic twist, one of the woman protesters, having been put in jail, is bailed out by a logger. Apparently, the two are romantically involved. They jump on a motorcycle and ride off into the sunset.

In adspeak, that is called a happy ending.

The ad does not tell us whether she spent the day in jail while he was destroying the forest, or whether he took the day off to spring her.

The tag line suggests that people with different values can still get along if they love each other: "The more you look at the world, the more you recognize that people value things differently. HSBC, the world's local bank."

I do hope that they did not spend too much on this, because it is pure drivel.

If you have not seen the ad, or have not thought too deeply about it, I recommend John Swansburg's article in Slate.com. It provides a link to the extended version of the ad, along with a cogent, and largely correct, analysis of its failings. Link here.

Clearly, the ad wants to show people getting along across large cultural divides. Forget the fact that getting along with other people is not the same thing as hugging them from the back of a motorcycle-- in many companies it would not be allowed.

The problem with the ad, as Swansburg notes, is that it does not understand that different values are not the same as different customs.

Worse yet, when one member of a couple wants to put the other out of business, that is not at all the same as two people speaking a different language, having different table manners, or observing different social rituals.

Globalization has made it vitally important for different peoples from different parts of the world with different cultural backgrounds to work together in common enterprise. Learning how to do this is one of the greatest cross-cultural challenges we face today.

But how, pray tell, will they ever do so if one group is trying to shut down the other's enterprise.

Someone from HSBC and/or the agency did not work hard enough on this concept. HSBC may have wanted to show us how to bridge cultural divides; it showed us that it does not even understand the problem.

It is not alone. In my executive coaching practice, as well as in my relationship coaching practice, I often see people grappling with similar issues. Most, however, have a better grasp of the problem than HSBC and its ad agency.

And what about the way the relationship between logger and tree-hugger is portrayed? Swansburg describes it as: "either irritating or endearing, depending on your taste in such things.... It's like a 21st century version of those Ernst Lubitsch meet-cute pictures, in which the man who sleeps in the pajama bottoms and the woman who sleeps in pajama tops fall in love at the pajama rack."

Here Swansburg goes off the rails. Do you imagine that when this couple gets home-- assuming that they get there together-- they are going to be ready for a romantic romp?

There is nothing cute about one spouse-- let's pretend they are married-- trying to put the other spouse out of business. It is not just a matter of taste, an aesthetic issue, like the difference between sushi and tacos, or between Vermeer and Giotto.

We are not just talking about two citizens in a democracy voting for different candidates. Not at all. We are within the realm of the ethical, not the aesthetic. The true issue here is loyalty.

The ad's message is that if two people love each other enough, then all is well in Relationship Heaven.


The truth is, relationships do not collapse for lack of love. They often wither and die from disloyalty. Add a hint of disloyalty and the truest of true love will instantly turn to gall.

The problem with the tree-hugger's behavior is that it is disloyal. This is not excused because she feels strongly about the issue. Zealotry aside, there is rarely only one cogent position of an issue. Even if there were, this does not excuse her disloyalty.

The least I can say is, don't try this at home. And if you want to help people from different cultures to work together, don't follow the advice implied in this ad.

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