The HSBC 'We are not an island' ad only offends anti-immigration zealots

·Head of Yahoo Finance UK
Graphic: HSBC/JWT advertising agency
Graphic: HSBC/JWT advertising agency

HSBC’s latest ‘We are not an island’ advert has done its job. It has got the nation discussing one of the biggest issues that is dividing our society and changing our future as we navigate the severance of our membership within the European Union.

As part of that, it has also served as a Rorschach test to people’s responses to immigration, further illuminating how Brexit is rather a symptom of a dogged view over our borders.

HSBC insists that the ad is not talking about Brexit but instead “reinforcing our strong belief that the things that make us quintessentially British are the things that make us inescapably international.” But it’s hard not to read the ad as a passive swipe at Brexiteers, after all, immigration was the main reason why people voted to leave the EU.

The ad, displayed online, in newspapers, on bus stops, train platforms, and in London’s tube, is pretty simple: it positively lists British people’s favourite things that all derive from countries from across the world. From the coffee we drink, to the athletes we support, from our favourite foods, to beer we drink — it showcases how our nation of 66 million people are not just small islanders but thrive as a multicultural society that looks beyond its small borders. The video ad also serves to reinforce this message in a humorous way with British comedian Richard Ayoade:

The ad doesn’t explicitly say anything about Britain leaving the EU but it didn’t stop Brexit supporters, especially politicians, from getting angry about campaign. For example, Patrick O’Flynn, a pro-Leave MEP called it a “really odd and ideologically aggressive advert.”

Others like Isle of Wight MP Bob Seely, jumped on the bandwagon with the predictable (read: lazy) route of attacking the bank, following the pro-immigration and globalist message in the ad.

The biggest question is that why is the message offensive to anyone, other than if celebrating diversity riles you.

British society is more divisive than ever right now. Anti-immigration sentiment led to Brexit, a greater “hostile environment” for migrants stemming from UK government policies, and a rise in race and religious hate crimes in Britain.

This is despite immigration having little impact on public finances or any impact on unemployment, yet a huge contribution to the public purse and the workforce. In fact, migrants are more likely to be in work than native British workers.

Sure, advertising is about vested interest in getting people to buy a product, service, or into idea for a company or organisation. HSBC, which has over 220,000 employees and makes about $50bn in profit a year, operates at the scale it does by greater blurring of borders.

But having an ad that simply reminds the person on the street about how Britain has become rich — both financially and culturally — due to embracing a globalised society is something that Britain needs right now.

This is an opinion piece and does not necessarily reflect the stance of the rest of Yahoo Finance UK.