A screen shot of the controversial FNB "You Can Help" campaign video.

Durban - The US author Mark Twain used to say that “a lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes”. Twain died in 1910, long before the era of instantaneous news coverage and social media, but today his words are truer than ever.

I am, of course, referring to the exhaustive coverage that our FNB “You Can Help” advert has received since it was aired on January 17. Amazingly (and despite all our best efforts to communicate), there is still a lot of confusion about the simple facts. There are always two sides to a story, and then there’s the truth:

- FNB believes in the power of help to make a difference.

- The TV advertisement seeks to inspire all South Africans to help each other.

- There is nothing wrong with the advertisement.

- The advertisement is still being aired on TV and is available on YouTube.

- We have not apologised for the advertisement.

So what went wrong? To inform the making of the advertisement itself, our marketing team commissioned an independent company to conduct research into the opinions of 1 300 South African youth about our country.

While some 70 percent of interviewees expressed optimism about South Africa, there were also sharp critics about areas for improvement. This is normal in any society. From these interviews, four video clips were linked to the “You Can Help” blog, including one that carried a negative comment about a cabinet minister. None of the clips - neither these four nor any of the other clips gathered in the research - were intended to become an advertisement. We certainly had no intention of playing politics, and there is simply no logic in FNB deliberately attacking the government or the ANC.

When we were alerted to what was interpreted as being “political statements” and “a personal insult” in the content of the four video clips, we immediately removed them.

FirstRand chief executive Sizwe Nxasana also apologised to the minister in question.

On January 25 we met a senior ANC delegation to “clear the air”. We repeated our apology for the posting of the video clips and the ANC expressed support for the actual advertising campaign and the sentiment of helpfulness that it intended to convey.

Admittedly, I am sad that a campaign that was meant to inspire South Africans to make a difference has become so controversial, yet I remain extremely positive about our future and confident in the many clever, hard-working people who want to help make us a better country.

We live in a truly wonderful country; one that is admired around the world. Yet as South Africans, we sometimes forget what our great nation is capable of.

One needs only look at our astonishing achievements to realise that despite our past, we are a country that succeeds by turning adversity to opportunity.

Our robust banking system has thus far withstood the harsher pressures of the global economic crisis. FNB has established itself as a global leader in the financial sector after being named The Most Innovative Bank in the World for 2012.

It is clear that we have so much to be proud of. If we could just temper our cynicism with understanding and slow our judgement with a measure of patience, we will continue to prove to the world that the miracle of South Africa is alive and well. It is widely acknowledged that ideals power growth and profit at the world’s greatest companies.

Further, ideals, defined as a principle or value that one actively pursues as a goal, are not tied to a particular business model and have no expiration date.

We believe that help has the power to create a better world. A belief in long-term sustainable growth over narrow profit maximisation has long been at the heart of the way FNB thinks and acts, and is evident in initiatives like our investment in Soweto in the early 1980s, with the building of the FNB Stadium. We are founding sponsors of the Homecoming Revolution, SA the Good News, as well as having been both a bid sponsor and the first African corporate to formally sign up as a national supporter of the World Cup.

Understanding that a better society is a side-effect of doing good business, FNB has always sought to transcend mere product advertising, and seek instead to fill South Africans with pride, raise their morale and remind them of their own value as some of the most passionate, compassionate, proud and helpful individuals in the world. To this end, you may recall our “Anthem, Lost Dog and Praise Singer” advertisements.

We are not alone in the view that business and society are not separate, with many companies and brands, such as Coca-Cola “Journey”, VW “Smiles”, and Pick n Pay “Doing good is good business” among others, choosing to communicate their ideals and core beliefs, not just their products and or services.

So convinced are we of the massive potential for nation-building inherent in simply helping one another, that FNB will continue with its “You Can Help” campaign. Our belief in its message of help and its role in building a better South Africa, that first inspired the campaign, remains firm.

If you believe as we do “that you must be the change you wish to see in the world”, join us in helping help happen. We invite you to visit our blog “youcanhelp.co.za” to be inspired and share your true stories of help.

* Jordaan is the chief executive of FNB.

The Mercury