The Good, The Bad And The Meh Of SBI Print Ad Celebrating 5M Facebook Followers

Celebrating Facebook fan milestones was a thing of the past, but running print ads for the same is new and it isn't completely bad for State Bank of India


State Bank of India, the banker to every Indian, also known to be the largest banking and financial services company in India by assets (2014-15) is trying hard to be the “Banker to Digital India.” The desperate attempt to stitch in the PM Modi’s vision of Digital India. In order to do so the bank recently ran full page print ads in leading news dailies of the country. The objective was to celebrate a major milestone – celebration of “5 million followers” that the bank had secured on its Facebook page.

Here is the ad that was published on Hindustan Times:


The ad was picked up on social media; a majority had ridiculed the way the bank wasted money in these print ads. Many found these ads meaningless as celebration of Facebook fans is no more a big deal in 2016.

A couple of years ago Lighthouse Insights (LI) used to receive press releases requesting to cover stories on such Facebook and Twitter milestones. However it is quite rare to find brands burning good amount money on print to celebrate digital numbers. At least in 2016 it is quite rare and bizarre. Besides why would you do such an activity when SBI, India’s biggest lender reported a 62 percent drop in Q3 profit on account of rising bad loans.

LI had approached SBI to get thoughts on their objective for running such print ads. The request was not accepted as the PR thought it wasn’t worthwhile for the marketing manager to respond to. In fact the PR wasn’t even aware of the social media backlash regarding the print ad by SBI. Looks like online reputation management team springs into action when the house is already on fire!

The Good and the Bad of the ad

Digital ninjas would discard the print ad within seconds but if you take a step back and look at it from a common man’s point of view then the SBI ad isn’t that bad. The ad has three players –

  1. The bank - SBI
  2. The social network - Facebook
  3. Milestone celebration – 5 Million

For a common man SBI is synonymous to a bank, like Facebook is to a social network. At a time when the social media population is yet to touch double digits in the country, most people have no clue what ‘Facebook Likes’ are, forget readers questioning fan acquisition methods and what percentage of them are “fake likes” coming from distant lands.

As the target audience is the common man, the ad copy coolly says 5 million followers and not ‘likes’. In addition to this the focus is on the number ‘5 million’, ‘ranked no. 1 worldwide’ and ‘banker to digital India.’ All of them are enough to catch eye balls and fill the reader with pride even if she isn’t a customer. This is not about wastage of money because the idea was to go chest-thumping on print.

Karthik Srinivasan argues the same point in his blog piece where he lists five reasons why the ad was not such a bad idea. “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’.”

Further he states:

“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 agency has pulled off, with whatever – money, good content, being responsive etc. To get something visibly BIG and get a tick mark in their KPIs.”

But at the same time some worthy concerns have been raised by Anant Rangaswami in his column at The Hindu. He thinks that the State Bank of India is 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?”

These can be argued but with this ad SBI wants to communicate with an audience that believes social media is Facebook.

The meh part of the ad

Early last year we had written about how Indian banks have evolved on social media. From playing Facebook and Twitter contests, banks are into social banking and interactive storytelling. For instance Kotak Mahindra Bank which has more than 636K fans only, launched Jifi Server - a social savings bank account which can be managed via Twitter and Facebook.

Soon ICICI teamed up with Twitter India to launch #ICICIBankPay – a first-of-its kind service in India that enables ICICI Bank customers to transfer money to anyone in the country who has a Twitter account, check account balance, view last three transactions and recharge prepaid mobile in a completely secure manner.

DBS Bank India from 2014 has focused on a digital storytelling route to build brand awareness. The second season of DBS Chilli Paneer  included user interactivity wherein viewers became storytellers.

In an age where so much digital innovations are happening to cater to the young generation, SBI is spending money on such activities which could have been a feat in 2012.

That doesn’t mean that SBI isn’t engaging with the millennial. A Facebook and Twitter post from the bank states that out of 5 million likes over 3 million are from the age group of 18-24: “We are glad to be connecting with the millennials too!”

I’m not sure if we are supposed to laugh at it. If you have spent 5 minutes with Facebook ads then you would know 18-24 age group yields the cheapest fan acquisition cost. The joke is on us guys, but then tomorrow if this is an ad copy on a print daily, the common man wouldn’t know this.

SBI can continue to be ignorant, call itself a millennial bank or find a better digital agency.