Over the past few days, South Africa’s ruling party the ANC has raised a furore over an ad campaign from banking giant First National Bank (FNB), claiming that they purposefully targeted it. The bank quietly removed some of the ads from YouTube. At first glance it looks like FNB was kowtowing to the ANC, but was there actually strategic social media-led thinking at work?
A statement from ANC Youth League Spokesperson Kusela Sangoni-Khawe says the ad is “treasonous” and accused the bank of trying to provoke a revolution:
FNB, in an obviously lame attempt to recreate an Arab Spring of some sort in South Africa, uses children to make unproven claims of a government rife with corruption. Business as a whole has more than enough platforms from which to raise any issues with the ANC government, and this they have been doing, there is no basis for such insults and treasonous attacks on our government.
FNB’s response called the allegations “tasteless” adding that it strongly denies “that FNB acted in any manner which gives rise to such malicious actions.” Nonetheless, a number of the ads were removed.
And this is where it gets interesting. FNB has been a shining paragon of social media savvyiness and digital success — so has it been making decisions based on popular opinion online? It is difficult to definitively claim that it has, but it is possible to look at the timelines and make an educated deduction.
If you were to have followed the conversation on social media and in digital you may have noticed that FNB first denied the action vehemently, then removed some of the ads, then put them back and, most importantly, the original ad was played during prime time on national television that same evening. So what happened to make them change their direction so quickly so many times?
If you had been following you would have noticed that after removing the ads from YouTube there was a massive outcry and attack on the FNB brand calling it names such as “cowards”, “spine-less”, saying it was “bowing under pressure” and more. This was not a once off case and could be seen on Twitter, Facebook and in the comments sections on many notable digital publications. Essentially the community stood up and told FNB they were not happy with this move. This is further emphasised by a faux-Nandos’s ad calling the bank chicken.
Was this a series of events that happened at random and led to an outcome or is it possible that FNB used social media to decide how it should proceed with the campaign? Furthermore did it use the crowd to measure support and sentiment in making a strategic decision?
We know that FNB has made major headway in the use of social media in the production of its services and customer service systems. It definitely has the resources to monitor online conversations closely and most likely in real-time.
Following this is the fact digital communities in emerging markets around the world, including South Africa, experienced phenomenal growth last year. The pool from which decision-making data can be pulled is therefore much larger. This lends itself to the idea that per instance strategic decision-making may well be possible using the digital space and, in particular, social media.
Again, it is difficult to say whether or not FNB actually did this but there’s no doubt that it would have been feasible for it to do so.