So the phone rings and a voice on the other end says “You guys do street teams, right?” And we say, sure, why?”

  This is way cooler than a damn blinky-button, don’t you think?

This is way cooler than a damn blinky-button, don’t you think?

And the voice says “Because we need street teams. We’re HSBC and we just moved into the New York City market and we want to prove that we belong, so we have this great idea. In February, we’re going to hand out blinky buttons in the shape of a heart that say ‘HSBC-world’s local bank’. And then in March, we’ll hand out key chains in the shape of a shamrock that say ‘HSBC-world’s local bank’. And so on, all year long. What do you think?”

And we said, well, that’s a great idea, but why don’t you give us a day or two and see if we could come up with something, okay? And they said “Great!” and that got us thinking.

Proof of “local” is about knowledge, especially in New York City. And who represents local knowledge in New York City? We came up with two kinds of people – bartenders and cabbies.

  New York’s savviest cabbie, Johhny Morello, talking to the New York press about, um, New York.

New York’s savviest cabbie, Johhny Morello, talking to the New York press about, um, New York.

For reasons I won’t go into, we settled on cabbies – and proceeded to create t he HSBC Bank Cab program. We got a classic, last-year-of-production Checker Cab – the kind that used to roam the streets of New York for decades, and painted it in the HSBC colors.

Then we did a search for the most knowledgeable cabbie in New York – a story that got picked up by local news even before we launched the program. And we had the finals at the Iridium, and crowned Johnny Morello who proved to a panel of New York City experts that he knew where the best stuff in New York was, how to get around quickly during rush hour, and could tell more stories about New York than just about any one we’d met.

And we set him loose in New York City in the cab with these simple instructions – if you see an HSBC customer, give them a free ride anywhere they want to go in the five boroughs.

  We dressed the street teams up in the same gear that Johnny was wearing, and put them on key street corners to hand out the guides to passersby.

We dressed the street teams up in the same gear that Johnny was wearing, and put them on key street corners to hand out the guides to passersby.

And he did – and that got us a ton of press. Both in New York and around the world, where HSBC has most of its branches. But it didn’t stop there.

Because we also created a series of guides to New York City food that were unique and distinctive and generated buzz all on their own, that our street teams – dressed like our cabbie Johnny – handed out all over the city.

And then Johnny went to branches and started engaging the employees, who were suddenly excited about working for HSBC – in a way they never had before. And then he started appearing in New York City parades. And then people started stopping him on the street to talk about the cab, remembering when a taxi ride was something not just to be endured, but enjoyed. And the website that featured the info from the guides started getting tons of hits. And then we ran out of guides. And, and, and…

  Best place to take your mother-in-law to impress her on the Upper West Side? Best Barbecue on the Lower East? That’s the kind of local knowledge New Yorkers can respect – and it’s in these four guides.

Best place to take your mother-in-law to impress her on the Upper West Side? Best Barbecue on the Lower East? That’s the kind of local knowledge New Yorkers can respect – and it’s in these four guides.

In the end, not only was customer satisfaction up, not only was HSBC awareness up, not only was employee morale up, not only did pre- and post-qualitatives show that non-customers accepted and appreciated HSBC as a New York bank – but HSBC was named one of Brandweek’s “Guerilla Marketers of the Year”.

Yeah, a bank. Guerilla Marketer of the Year.

Not bad for something that started as just “street teams handing out blinky buttons”.