Nikita Mishra
Aug 14, 2023

HSBC bats for belonging to woo overseas students with cricketer Virat Kohli

From wickets to wallets, HSBC and agency partner Wunderman Thompson nurture nostalgia in their latest global work. Campaign exclusively chats with the brand's global CMO on the creative journey and hitting an all-rounder with Virat Kohli.

HSBC bats for belonging to woo overseas students with cricketer Virat Kohli

T.S. Eliot Prufrock measured his life in coffee spoons. Growing up, most Indian kids measure theirs in bats and bails—memories of flying sixes and makeshift stumps—dotted across the nooks and crannies in the cities they grew up in. Cricket, or gully cricket (backyard cricket) is an intrinsic part of childhood embedded in the collective culture of the country.

Developing on this insight after in-depth market research, HSBC has launched a new international education campaign to showcase its international expertise to support the needs of international parents and students.  Released across four markets, namely India, Singapore, Australia and UK, in partnership with international cricket star and former Indian cricket captain Virat Kohli, the campaign is an ode to nurturing a sense of belonging among overseas students.

“International relocation is tough; I also went abroad for education and understand that the obstacles in gaining better education and a wider perspective are too many. The idea with this campaign was to show a sense of belonging with international students and standout as a financial services partner of choice for every step of the relocation process for the parents,” says Stephanie Ng, global head of marketing, Wealth and Personal Banking, exclusively to Campaign.  

The marketing effort, Ng tells us, is part of HSBC’s ongoing ambition to double its international customers by 2025. And also, to pivot itself as a strategic partner rather for global mobility rather than a transactional one. That’s a tall ask, so how does the bank plan to achieve it?

“Yes, it’s a big ambition, we realise that. International education is an upward trend, we have a long-term strategy for growing revenue and market share in Asia and currently, data is on our side. In 2022, overall, 26% more study visas were issued compared to the pre-pandemic days of 2019. Statistics from the Office for National Statistics in the UK finds nearly a quarter of all visas were granted to Indian nationals in 2022 the highest of any nationality—and 55% of those were for students,” adds Ng.

Furthermore, India has upstaged China as the largest nationality for sending students to the United Kingdom, as per the Immigration Statistics Report of August 2022. 

To tap into this growing consumer base and highlight the brand’s wide breadth of end-to-end banking solutions for relocation, the campaign is a nearly five-minute-long social experiment that plays heavy on nostalgia.

The brief from the client was to show work that weaves in the “sentiment of belonging”. “What you gain from movement, you sacrifice in the longing,” says Ng, to be precise. Creative arm Wunderman Thompson zeroed on the game of gully cricket (backyard cricket) for the concept to talk about the easing of emotional friction that comes along with a movement.

“Deep diving into the culture of Indian students to learn how they build a sense of community back home: the phenomenon that is gully cricket came about and we instantly knew this was going to be our creative vehicle. The game is relevant to India, the UK and a lot of Asia Pacific markets. It’s more than just sports. For students abroad, it’s a bridge to their roots, a form of community building exercise, a sort of a universal language that transcends borders,” says Carl Lundqvist, the creative director at Wunderman Thompson UK and the global creative director on the HSBC account.

Lundqvist is right. It’s no exaggeration that cricket and its neighbourhood version, gully cricket aren’t just sports or games. In India, it is a proxy for war, a diplomatic tool, a unifying force that cuts through class divides and a metaphor for life in the country—raucous, cheerful and unfettered by rules.

It’s a way of bringing people together. In the film, Virat Kohli, who resonates with the aspirations of young Indians both at home and abroad, mulls over the emotions that accompany the decision to send a child abroad for education.

“When we discussed the concept with Virat Kohli, he was instantly on board. For him, and for his other teammates in the Indian cricket team, gully cricket meant so much. It was really the core of childhood. The means to make friends and built a community.

“But it wasn't just bringing different Indian students together that didn't know each other. It was bringing all cultures together. So, we decided to invite students, not just from India but from multiple countries like England, Hong Kong etc. for the campaign,” says Lundqvist.

Amplifying authenticity

Financial services as a sector is not always easy for creatives. Sometimes the ads can be as mundane as the terms and conditions of the products on offer, but the team at Wunderman Thompson manages to have fun with the execution. It’s not work that stops you in your tracks, but creatively it breaks the rut.

True to the social experiment concept—the visual treatment is unfiltered, candid; the shaky hand-held camera work adds to the authenticity and engagement so that even at an indulgent five minutes, the storyline feels propulsive. The treatment (especially for the sector) is a refreshing change. The work does not nudge the product’s superiority or harp on its benefits, rather it stirs emotions and stays true to the human angle of an international change.

“We didn’t want the work to carry the stamp of a big production. Instead have the down-to-earth feel to it, be as authentic and genuine as possible—in treatment, expressions and storytelling—nothing could be staged,” says Ng.

In a cluttered category, visual communication helps elevate the product from its competition. The reality TV style treatment, almost like long-form TikTok that’s more authentic than flattering, complements the differentiation strategy—which works well in connecting with the GenZ audience—the bank’s primary target through this effort.

The students had no idea that their humble morning game will be graced by Virat Kohli. Logistically, keeping the presence of a celebrity under wraps in the busy streets of London couldn’t have been easy.

“There was one moment when the students were playing, and Virat was on the other side of the building and about to walk around the corner. The ball went straight down the alley past him and one of the students that went to catch it spotted Virat. He ran back in excitement to tell the group, and we quickly had to jump in and pull him out of scene,” recalls Lundqvist.

“That was the trickiest part of the shoot—to not let the cat out of the bag and at one moment we almost lost it,” he adds.

From start to finish, the shoot was completed in one hour, “with a minute to spare” chuckles Lundqvist. Capturing the rhythmic movement with multiple players on the streets and getting different perspectives without bearing the aesthetics of a large production and keeping the element of surprise alive; production-wise, it was one of the toughest shoots Lundqvist has undertaken.

Stephanie Ng, HSBC and Carl Lundqvist, creative director at Wunderman Thompson, UK

Celebrity influencers: triumph or tumult?

Big on star power, the campaign is sure to attract eyeballs; with awareness as a key KPI for the effort, that’s an easy tick. However, given the recent spate of celebrity branding blunders, from Dylan Mulvaney (BudLight) to Kanye West (Adidas) or the Kris Wu episode in China—selective outrage involving celebrities is nothing new—but the sales crisis that continues to hit BudLight nearly five months after the incident, and the failed risk assessment of the botched partnership has been profound.

The right star can catapult a wider reach but the financial services sector by nature is conservative; in 2023 is a celebrity partnership a guarantee of unbridled virality, a silver bullet for success or a slippery slope to stagnation?

“It’s not quite black and white, there has to be a balance when zeroing on an influencer. We take the selection process very seriously with all the stakeholders involved. There has to be alignment with the brand values and the discipline and the craft of the influencer for the partnership to work,” adds Ng.

In this case, Kohli is the symbol of ambition, his growth trajectory and middle-class aspirations resonate with young Indians both at home and abroad. And with cricket being such a unifying force for the diaspora, the partnership is nothing short of a marketing six.

Bang for the marketing buck

The campaign will be released in Singapore, Australia, India and UK and distributed across social media, YouTube, Disney+ Hotstar among other channels from August 14 to September 30.

“Awareness is obviously a key KPI. The top of the funnel is looking at things like landing page views and impressions, click-throughs etc. The bottom is really getting more customers to sign up for international accounts and meeting our commercial business targets that’s double the number of international customers by 2025,” says Ng.

HSBC divulged no details on the budget of the campaign, it’s a multi-campaign deal with cricketer  Kohli and the bank says the marketing budget has not come under strict scrutiny.

“Money needs to be spent wisely. We’re savvy and smart in marketing spend; however, clever and strategic cashflows are not seeing any decline,” quips Ng.

Sounds like a sunny forecast in the current economic landscape. 

Campaign Asia

Related Articles

Just Published

1 day ago

Amazon CEO Andy Jassy on using AI to win over ...

The e-commerce giant’s CEO revealed fresh insights into the company's future plans on all things consumer behaviour, AI, Amazon Ads and Prime Video.

1 day ago

James Hawkins steps down as PHD APAC CEO

Hawkins leaves PHD after close to six years leading the agency, and there will be no immediate replacement for him.

1 day ago

Formula 1 Shanghai: A watershed event for brand ...

With Shanghai native Zhou Guanyu in the race, this could be the kickoff to even more fierce positioning among Chinese brands.

1 day ago

Whalar Group appoints Neil Waller and James Street ...

EXCLUSIVE: The duo will lead six business pillars and attempt to win more creative, not just creator, briefs with the hire of Christoph Becker as chief creative officer.