WHAT is it about First National Bank (FNB) and adverts? It is a serial advertising offender when it comes to its relations with governments.

Back in 1987, Chris Ball, MD of Barclays as it then was, financed a full-page advert inserted by local businessman Yusuf Surtee calling for the release of Nelson Mandela. President PW Botha rose in wrath to castigate Ball. He was at his finger-wagging best. Ball made the mistake of saying that Botha would be well advised not to use that language outside the protection of Parliament. Botha’s response was to hide behind a commission of inquiry.

The whole affair effectively put paid to Ball’s otherwise glittering career as a leading main street banker — for which, let it be said, he can thank his timorous board.

Then Paul Harris, another FNB CE, got really steamed up about the crime wave in 2007.

He launched a R20m advertising campaign — print, radio and television — intended to persuade President Thabo Mbeki to make crime his personal priority. Mbeki reacted badly, but then he always did when he was being criticised.

Themba Maseko, a government spokesman, said the campaign was a form of indictment against Mbeki.

"Positioning themselves as an opposition party is not appropriate. Trying to incite people to behave in a certain way towards the head of state cannot be condoned," he said.

Why not? Politicians incite people to behave in ways they want all the time. All this does is demonstrate the interconnectedness of things. FNB’s clients were being beaten up, hijacked, probably raped and some no doubt murdered.

Why shouldn’t a major bank stand up for its customers?

Now, FNB has been attacked (for a third time) for an ad campaign that kicked off with a pupil from Naledi High School reading an essay extolling the virtues of the 1976 uprising, which permitted her to be born free, but then went on to complain about corruption.

In developing FNB’s You Can Help campaign, more than 1,300 students aged between 10 and 22 took part.

One factor to emerge was an astonishing sense of hope, and a desire to work as a community to help improve society.

Some of their observations are worth noting: "Our lives are being destroyed by people who have too much power." (Gauteng North.)

"In my community we share water with cows and animals in the river … I wish Jacob Zuma could see this." (KwaZulu-Natal)

"People are not living freely because crime has surrounded them … SA is getting rotten."

The first advert flighted on TV prompted such a roar of disapproval from the ruling party that FNB said it would withdraw it.

That smacked of fear in the face of political censure.

The African National Congress (ANC) said it was appalled by the advert: "the advert content is an undisguised political statement that makes random and untested accusations against our government in the name of discourse." Typically, the ANC Youth League labelled the campaign as "treacherous".

The suggestion that FNB was in headlong retreat prompted fast food company Nando’s, famous for its many varieties of takeaway chicken meals, to produce an advert that read: "FNB … Chicken?"

You have to hand it to the Nando’s marketing team. Those who make up its cutting edge are quick off the mark and generally fearless. The ad certainly got plenty of guffaws from around the country — and may, in fact, have put steel into FNB’s managers, because I understand its You Can Help campaign is continuing.

This leaves two matters of interest. The first is that the campaign prompted an irritated Business Day correspondent to complain that all FNB was doing was promoting its own products, with little concern for those who might be caught in the crossfire. It’s quite true that FNB is doing its best to increase its market share and sell its products. That’s why it is involved in the economy.

The ANC is also involved in the economy, in a manner many of us believe foolhardy and dangerous.

In a country that espouses freedom of expression, everyone, including banks, have the right to comment and act.

The second is that Nando’s managers should take note that every time it points a finger, others are pointing back.

Do you remember in December last year Nando’s withdrew an ad that poked fun at Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe, whom it described as "the last dictator standing"? Nando’s withdrew that ad after threats to its staff in Zimbabwe from a group loyal to Mugabe.

The ad itself showed a Mugabe lookalike dining alone at a table set for Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi, Uganda’s Idi Amin and a few other departed autocrats.


NO SOONER had the Proteas done us proud by whitewashing the New Zealand Black Caps in the Test matches, than they dropped us straight in the pooh during the one-day series.

It was extraordinary, and it suggests the Proteas’ managers care much less about any form of the game than Tests. It is true that the Proteas went into the one-day series without key players Jacques Kallis, Dale Steyn, AB de Villiers, JP Duminy and Hashim Amla, but so did the Black Caps — Daniel Vettori (former Test captain), Tim Southee, Jesse Ryder (allegedly partial to the fruit of the vine) and Ross Taylor.

What happened?

The Proteas were run out of town (five run-outs in the second match; one more and it would have been a world record — now that’s nothing about which to be proud). A lot has been written about the singular prowess of Gary Kirsten, but he’s well on the way to getting dragged through the manure. With an ICC Champions Trophy due in June in the UK, now is the time to refine and polish the unit. At least Kirsten knows who won’t secure a place.

Meanwhile, thank you, Bafana Bafana. At last, a goal. Two in fact. The Twitterati suggested a party as in 1996, but that’s premature.