FNB has pulled a series of videos from its You Can
Help campaign after it was criticised by the ANC as
being "political" and "treasonous".
The bank at first gave no official reasons for why it
had pulled the videos, and said only that its
intentions were misinterpreted.
FNB chief marketing officer Bernice Samuels
eventually responded to calls for clarity on why the
adverts were pulled.
"Unfortunately we have decided to take them [the
videos] down as the participants are fearing
reprisals," Samuels told Talk Radio 702 during an
interview on Monday.
Samuels added that the participants had to be
prevented from being caught in the "political
crossfire" that now surrounds the campaign.
"Serious allegations of treason were levelled against
them. This was not the point of the campaign. It was
aimed at galvanising the nation," she said.
Samuels added the responses recorded were not
edited or tampered with in any way.
"This is the reality of these children, they responded
honestly and their answers were not scripted," she
The videos in question featured young people who
spoke critically of the challenges faced by the
One of the participants complained of unemployment,
poverty and nationwide strikes, and a government
rife with corruption, while another urged people to
“stop voting for the same government in hopes for
The campaign was launched on January 17. The
remaining video from the campaign – which does not
articulate such strong views about the government
but focuses more on the company’s call for help in
building a better society – has already racked up
almost 12 000 views.
ANC on the defensive
Reaction from the ANC was swift. On Sunday, party
spokesperson Keith Khoza told the Mail & Guardian
that the videos were "an attack on the president, his
ministers and government as a whole".
This sentiment was echoed on Monday by the ANC’s
Jackson Mthembu who added: “What is of concern to
the ANC is that the advert content is an undisguised
political statement that makes random and untested
accusations against our government in the name of
Meanwhile the ANC Youth League characterised the
campaign as a “treasonous attack on government”
and an attempt to destablise the country.
The youth league later slammed the bank for
removing the ads, saying: "This cowardly act of
removing the videos is nothing but the act of capital
caught with its pants down," and called for them to
be released again so that they could be viewed and
But Eusebius McKaiser, an associate at the Wits
Centre for Ethics, said that government’s reaction to
the campaign was “over the top”.
“Corporate citizens are also citizens. They play an
important role in the country and therefore are
allowed to speak wearing their corporate hats and
their hats as ordinary citizens. It might be imprudent
for them but whether it’s imprudent is a different
question as to whether it’s acceptable,” he said.
McKaiser said that although there was no tradition in
the country of businesses being critical of
government, this does not mean businesses are not
allowed to express an opinion.
“We have to accept the question of whether it’s
legitimate criticism,” he said.
Marketing experts meanwhile said the advert was a
risky one, which could stand to alienate its intended
Jonathan Cherry, editor of marketing trends website
Cherryflava.com said the incident illustrated that it
was wise for brands to steer clear of religion and
“I have a real problem with brands getting involved
in such debates while at the same time trying to push
their own services,” he said, pointing out that the
website for the campaign included FNB adverts
touting the benefits of switching to FNB.
Social media consultant Mel Attree agreed that the
campaign also blurred the lines between a call to
arms to help build a better country and a sales pitch
for FNB services.
“Mobilising the youth is a smart thing to do but
they’re also protecting future customers,” she said.
She also expressed surprise that the videos had been
pulled so soon after they’d been released.
"I’m surprised as to why stuff has been pulled off so
quickly because they should have anticipated the
backlash. It’s a well-known fact that if you’re going
to do something that is going to annoy a certain
sector of government or the nation, that you have a
plan B or a plan C,” she said.
Marketing analyst Chris Moerdyk – who also
characterised the campaign as “confusing” – agreed
that FNB should have anticipated the ANC’s response.
“With very basic research … the one thing you would
know is that the ANC is not only paranoid but they
are prone to knee-jerk reactions. They just get
terribly upset,” he said.
Last year, members of the ANC lashed out at
Nedbank’s chairperson Reuel Khoza, who
complained in the company’s annual report that the
country’s “political leadership’s moral quotient is
Moerdyk said that even if the campaign was not
meant by FNB to be a political statement, the ANC’s
reaction had made it one.
“The first thing the ANC did was complain bitterly
about it … The mere fact that the ANC has reacted so
vociferously against it has made it political,” he said.
An ad agency involved in the campaign, Metropolitan
Republic, recently came under fire for another of its
campaigns, an animated advert for the Fish & Chip
Company that skewered President Jacob Zuma and
his polygamous lifestyle.
The ad caused a stir and was pulled from the South
African Broadcasting Corporation’s channels at the
last moment. But the ban helped propel the ad to
viral fame , and it went on to amass well over
100 000 views on YouTube and news websites.