5 reasons why that State Bank of India ad was not such a bad idea after all

Since that front page ad from State Bank of India appeared in Hindustan Times on March 17th, the Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn timelines have been buzzing non-stop with commentary.

I actively avoided saying anything over something this obvious, in the beginning, but eventually, when an adequate number of people tagged me in conversations, I couldn’t keep quiet.

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I agree – this is a waste of money. To spend money for a front page ad (costing crores) to talk of something as vacuous as Facebook Likes? C’mon, this is 2016! After all, we had a very good laugh when Jet Airways did a press release back in 2012 to announce their million fans on Facebook.

So there – if I was in SBI, and asked if we can release an ad like this, I would have asked them not to.

But, I’m not in SBI. Hence, I have the liberty to think for the opposite side – the one that is not me – as well! So, here are 5 reasons why that SBI ad was not such a bad idea after all!

1. How many people even know that Facebook Likes are ‘bought’? My parents still don’t fully understand how public relations works, let alone Facebook Like buying. Beyond an echo-chamber of digital and social media marketers, this ad may just not be questioned at all. In fact, many senior marketers may ask their social media agencies why they cannot pull off for them what SBI’s agency pulled off, with whatever – money, good content, being responsive etc. To get something visibly BIG and get a tick mark in their KPIs.

2. At a time when marketers seek ‘viral’ videos and ‘trending’ hashtags as part of agency KPIs, why is this ad even being seen with derision? I have written very recently about trending being an orchestration – not some organic goodness that drops from the sky. If we can crow about trending hashtags, why make fun of a 5 million milestone? If you see the list from the source, The Financial Brand (2015 Q1, Q2, Q3, Q4), it shows that SBI has overtaken many international banks for this ‘achievement’.

3. There is a quarter-page ad by Yes Bank in The Times of India today, in the business page. It is for Yes Bank’s CSR effort and the claim to fame is a number – ‘over 2 crores’.

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So, 2 crore+ people benefited from Yes Bank’s CSR efforts. This is an offline number, unlike Facebook Likes that is digital and hence supposedly more verifiable. But the nature of Facebook Likes is not as black or white as we’d like to believe. It is muddled. As much as Twitter followers (for which there are fake follower checkers, that approximately give you a % of your brand’s followers that are bots or fakes). But, if we can take 2 crore+ as a number worth crowing about in a print ad, why question 5 million Likes that is perhaps easier to check by simply going to the brand Facebook page. If we start digging the data behind the number–allow me to indulge in some whataboutery, please–what about the 2 crore+ number? Let us start digging that too.

4. Here’s a print ad (half page!) by Parachute Advansed. It says that people who use Parachute Advansed have the world’s ‘best hair’. Deepika Padukone endorses this ad, released in 2012. I have blogged about this since the fine print for the claim and the brand website’s explanation of how they arrived at this incredible claim made me go around in circles. So, ‘world’s best hair’ with no valid source is good for an ad and nobody will question it (except me and my blog post, of course), but 5 million Facebook fans will be questioned?

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5. For the 5th hypothetical counter-argument, I’d like to hypothetically and respectfully disagree with Anant Rangaswami. Anant, in his weekly piece in The Hindu says,

State Bank of India getting it horribly wrong, releasing a front page ad in major newspapers across the country congratulating itself for crossing ?Five million fans on the SBI Facebook page?. First, Facebook doesn?t record ?fans?. What SBI can truthfully claim is that it has five million likes for the page. Second, if the bank truly believed that it has five million fans, why on earth waste budgets advertising in expensive print publications? And finally, and this is perplexing, why hasn?t SBI announced this ?achievement? on their own Facebook page?

On the first point, I think that’s a pedantic argument. Facebook Fans, Likes, Twitter followers, fans, army etc. are assorted ways to refer to people who have clicked on some form of ‘follow’ allowed by social media networks. SBI ad does not use the word ‘fans’ even once, incidentally. It merely says, ‘5 million followers and counting’ and ‘…major milestone of having 5 million followers on its official Facebook page’. This is a factual statement and is hardly misleading in any way.

On the question of wasting ad budget, again, SBI did not claim they are fans. They are ‘followers’. And followers need not be clued into all the brands they follow all the time. We’re living in times of information overload. A follow doesn’t mean people are all ears all the time, every time. It merely means they liked one/few pieces of content at some point in time and assumed that they like the brand enough to click on Like. The very reason Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are constantly tweaking their algorithm is because not everyone sees every piece of content from every brand they have liked. So, the intent of this ad could be, ‘Hey people reading the front page of Hindustan Times! Look – we are the first bank across the world to have 5 million followers on Facebook. That makes us pretty popular, right? Bye… now go to the front page for news’.

It is a simple act of chest-thumping. Does it mandate a front page? Perhaps not. But then, which other bank has a 5 million follower mark on Facebook? Anywhere in the world? No one? Of course not. Then, it does seem like a not-so-bad idea after all, huh? In any case, it is not as if SBI is not responsive on Facebook – take a look at the comments/queries under each post and the brand’s reactions, replies. Yes, the content could be less boring and pushy, I agree, but that’s a different topic altogether.

Disclosure: SBI is not a client. I have never ever worked with SBI as a client in my career. I do not have a bank account or a bank locker with SBI either. The closest connection I have with SBI is that my father-in-law was a SBI lifer. He is no more, to see his son-in-law arguing both for and against the bank.

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  • Great read. Since the ad has been published, they have gained 64,679 likes on their FB page ie 5064679 as of 21st March. Organic or Paid, Likes and Followers are an indicator of how popular your brand is. For Marketing Teams KPI’s can vary. For some its Likes, Engagement, Social Presence, Social Listening etc. So its easy for many of us to call it waste of money. But if they had a set objective, and if they were able to achieve it via this paper advt, their job is done.

  • Nirav

    I found the arguments quite valid, when you compared it with Yes Bank and Parachute ad and it is sharp!
    Btw, loved the witty disclaimer putting end to any judgements and conclusions people arrive at in short span of time 😀

  • Prashant Jain

    India ..population 1.25 billion.. SBI (India’s largest public sector bank) in terms of number of account holders & transactions… So, SBI decides to put up a country wide print ad campaign boasting of 5 million Facebook Fans oh… not fans… followers.. which is just 0.4% of the total population.. if we go by your approach and if a normal guy who is not digital/tech savvy, one who is not aware of how FB likes work, would take it as a very weak copy for presenting “social proof” of India’s largest public sector bank.. m assuming people know math at least, and yes you would also agree that number of people knowing what it costs to advertise on such a large scale would be much higher than number of people knowing that there are fake Facebook likes as well. When i first saw this ad, i smirked for a moment and turned the page over, in the evening one of my uncle (knowing that I am into online marketing) specially called me up and shared his POV of the above logic (0.4%) to me… I was stunned… he doesn’t even know how to operate a smartphone properly but he was not impressed at all by this ad… he said.. “Issay achta to ye likh dete ki humaare kitne customers facebook par hain”…