The dying words of Eric Garner, whose untimely death has sparked a wave of protests across the US, have become a rallying cry for millions of Americans protesting against US police tactics. But it is not a phrase that banks should be using to discuss corporate research, brand and marketing professionals said yesterday.
“I can’t breathe,” the phrase uttered 11 times by Garner before he died, was adopted as the title of an Investec research note on Standard Chartered which dropped into email inboxes across the Square Mile early yesterday and prompted a storm of controversy.
“The Standard Chartered headline is an extraordinary piece of communication. I can’t understand how it passed internal approval,” Stephen Waddington, president the Chartered Institute of Public Relations and director of Ketchum Europe, said.
“Social media has set off a shift in organisational communication to a less formal styles of communication but this was plainly inappropriate and wrong. There is no place in any form of organisational communication… for such an approach.”
City analysts often face a daily battle to make their research eye-catching. Yet it also needs to be sober and informative to match the corporate brand image of their institutions and juggling both can be a struggle.
The Investec analyst behind the note, Ian Gordon, is one of the more colourful and outspoken banking analysts in the City and they are often titled with bloody metaphors.
“Once more into the breach, dear friends,” was the title of a Royal Bank of Scotland note in the summer, and a Churchillian “Never, ever give in!” was published on a Standard Chartered note earlier this year. “You’re gonna hear me ROAR,” was the dramatic title of a Barclays note last year.
Gordon defended the note yesterday – before Investec issued its apology – telling this newspaper he was “drawing parallels between racial prejudice by US authorities and StanChart’s regulatory challenges”.
The note itself says Standard Chartered has been unfairly “singled out” by US regulators and the government had “disproportionate control” over the business.
Yet drawing a comparison between Standard Chartered and Garner – whose death also sparked a protest at Westfield White City last night – was on shaky ground, one brand watcher said. “Brands have to be very careful in drawing analogies between ongoing political and inflammatory events and complex regulatory situations,” Marketing Week editor Ruth Mortimer said. “Investec appear crass in this instance for making a link between a tragic human story and a complex regulation issue.”