Monday, May 05, 2008

nation and capital

The plastic flag arrived as part of the weekend newspaper, courtesy of The Workers' Bank, the second largest bank in Israel . I opened the wrapping to see if they put their logo on the flag; they did, of course, albeit discretely, on the edge. Still noticeable. Of course, an advertisment capmaign is what it is, useless without brand characteristics.

The Workers' Bank was founded by the Zionist trade unions in Palestine in 1921, "to serve the interests of the Jewish working class". Jumping forward to 1983, the merry days of hyper-inflation, a bubbly stock exchange and the Lebanon War, the bank is nationalised by the government a minute before it goes bust. Fast forward again to the 1990s, the happier days of globalisation and the Oslo process, capitalism take 2, it is sold off to a Israeli-American billioner.

Money is the radical leveller that does away with all distinction, turns solid traditions to air and destroys borders, tells us Marx. But capitalism and nationalism, although ultimately at odds with one another, always found temporary living arrangements allowing mutual advantages. National trade barriers may be bad for business, but nationalist sentiments are good, as they provide many themes for hard-working copywriters. Patriotism sells.

The Workers' Bank flag is benign compared with the sticker issued by its main competitor - the National Bank - during the 2006 Lebanon War. "We Will Win" said the sticker, in the bank's recognisable corporate graphic style - good taste prvented them from putting their logo on it. Just imagine, "The Lebanon War - brought to you by Israel's leading bank, also offering you highly attractive loans". The sticker was distributed through the weekend papers a week after the war started. It borrowed its highly original moto from a speech by the prime minister.

These "we will win" stickers are very rare to come by now; they were peeled off cars' bumpers quickly after the war ended, when it became clear that we lost, or not really won, or were not really sure what winning meant in the first place. The bank, in any case, lost US$ 0.5 million on this advertisment fiasco. One should choose more carefully the right war to cheer.


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