'Nation-building not bashing'
First National Bank is not sure whether it will change its approach to marketing after its latest campaign drew heavy criticism from the ANC.
"Our intention was not to attract more clients," Bernice Samuels, FNB head of marketing, said yesterday.
In the You Can Help advertisement schoolgirl Kelly Baloyi delivers a speech to the nation. It begins with a reference to the 1976 Soweto school uprising.
Samuels said the advert was a brand-building exercise based on the values of the bank and "not at all" political.
Asked why the ANC, the ANC Youth League and the SA Communist Party would see it as political, even calling it "treasonous", Samuels said simply: "I don't know."
She was adamant that FNB saw nation-building as one of its roles.
Would FNB change its marketing approach following the backlash? "I don't know that we would," said Samuels.
Asked why a bank was involved in nation-building, she said it was "part of our context".
She pointed to an investment in Soweto's FNB Stadium in the mid-1980s as the start of nation-building. Since then the bank had supported the 2006 soccer World Cup bid, the 2010 soccer World Cup and the Homecoming Revolution, which calls on expatriates to return to the country.
The controversial campaign has a blog, youcanhelp.co.za, which Samuels said was a "matchmaker" of people needing help with those that offer it.
No specific charities or institutions are linked to the blog and the button "share your stories" opens a blank e-mail to an FNB address.
The ad aired several times yesterday after false reports that the company had pulled it.
But interviews with youngsters were removed from the blog, to protect those involved, Samuels said. The interviews were unscripted and contained some criticism of the government.
"We see an accusation of treason as serious and we didn't want the children to be caught in the crossfire," she said.
Samuels confirmed that the ad was scripted and not the personal views of Baloyi, 17. "Kelly's [words] represented the cumulative responses received from the 1300 during the survey, in addition to her [own] views," Samuels said.
The 17-year-old Baloyi was born to mixed-race parents in Limpopo in 1995, a year after the first democratic elections. The campaign website says she once asked her Shangaan father, "What am I?" He told her she could be whatever she wanted to be. Baloyi is the first black head girl of her school and a member of the Cape Town Junior City Council.
FNB CEO Michael Jordaan, usually chirpy on Twitter, would not grant an interview yesterday.
Jordaan has among the most followers on the social network of any South African business leader - more than 24000. He retweeted a few messages of support and replied "fowl play" to a feisty Nando's advertisement with the line "FNB . Chicken?" - Additional reporting by Nashira Davids