Commentary

Bank of America's Video Campaign Walks a Fine Line

On a narrow, personal level, I am a satisfied Bank of America customer. The bank embraces my primary demand, which is to not give my money to somebody other than me. It doesn't attempt to upsell me on products I don't want or share my intimate personal information (investments, cup size, etc.) with third parties. I have no beef with Bank of America.

Which, of course, puts me at odds with consumer advocates, government regulators, mortgage watchdogs and the subsegment of elected officials who have both a spine and a conscience. It's impossible to defend the bank's recent record on micro issues (the aborted plan to charge for debit-card usage) or macro ones (the nearly-crashing-the-economy-and-tarnishing-capitalism's-good-name thing). It's a wonder anyone even tries.

And yet every Sunday, when I spend 15 hours of quality time with the television, I can't duck Bank of America's new rah-rah ad campaign, which positions the company as a responsible corporate citizen heavily invested in local communities. At the end of the most-aired spot, Bank of America invites viewers to visit its Web site to hear more tales of the company's boundless magnanimity toward local businesses. Sure! To the site I went, expecting monologues about "our commitment to the future" and "strengthening the community fabric," all set to the strains of major-key synth plinks.

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It did not disappoint. In addition to an expanded version of the TV ad in heavy rotation, the Bank of America/New York site presents a gaggle of two- to four-minute videos on uber-local projects either financed or partially underwritten by the company.

The expanded ad touts the bank's role in helping a physician open a cancer clinic in an underserved neighborhood, which involved complex financing and, judging from the video, intense business conversations on bustling city streets in front of colorful fruit stands. The clip on B of A's support of Queens Theatre in the Park highlights the rising-tide effect on nearby printers and caterers, because a community theater without prosciutto-wrapped asparagus is like a strip club without an off-brand ATM. The bit on the bank's Neighborhood Excellence Initiative features would-be physicians from poor neighborhoods and a crane-necked urchin with a wheelbarrow of pumpkins.

To summarize: Bank of America is a kindly patron of local businesses, the arts, the environment, affordable housing, local affordable housing artistry environments and the New York Yankees (it is the team's "official bank," according to the site photo gallery). Also, it will do everything in its power to support crane-necked urchins who, while poor in lucre, are rich in spirit and pumpkins.

It's all too silly and transparent (young child: "This is my favorite part of the house because, um, I can just go in my room and close the door. But in the shelter… I never had my own bed."). Maybe Bank of America has "core values" that align with those of the customers and organizations it serves. Maybe it deeply, truly, sincerely believes that "building a strong community is building strong business."

But right now, Bank of America finds itself in an impossible situation. If it touts its good deeds in a video campaign like this one, it invites skepticism. If it shuts its mouth, plugs its ears and hopes that the storm cloud will blow over, it comes across as indifferent. Until some other company or industry seizes the malfeasant-of-the-month title belt, Bank of America can't win.

10 comments about "Bank of America's Video Campaign Walks a Fine Line".
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  1. Dave Kohl from First In Promotions, December 6, 2011 at 3:09 p.m.

    This article fits right in with how things are with B of A these days, even though not intentional. Having seen this only a couple of hours after the breaking news that B of A settled a mortgage related lawsuit for more than $300 MILLION, along comes this column pointing out a couple of supposedly good deeds.

    And those "good deeds" are part of their plan to cover up the debit cards and the other debacles that have come from B of A in recent months.

    Maybe the next column should be about the "any publicity is good publicity" theory that some people have, using B of A as a prime example.

    Personally, I wish they would be required to change the name to "Bank of a Few Individuals" and respond to important matters.

  2. Don Klos from KMC, December 6, 2011 at 3:11 p.m.

    They're doing the same thing on the West Coast. They're heavily using Pink's Hot Dogs, the iconic and beloved stand that symbolizes the achievment of the American dream. I'm a BofA customer for 42 years. But I'm disgusted at them for their attempts to stalk and steal from us at every opportunity. Their campaign is like catching a toddler with his hand in the cookie jar, but when you scold them for it they completely deny doing it, and then make a video trying to tell everyone that in spite of what anyone says they are indeed trustworthy. They need to shut the eff up and just start DOING, i.e. lending to small businesses and helping them succeed, and let that money they're hoarding loose out into the community. And earn money the old fashioned way, but earning it with interest from loans, not from charging patrons for accessing their own money.

  3. Sue Johnson from Verified Audit Circulation, December 6, 2011 at 3:11 p.m.

    Banks are required under the Community Reinvestment Act to lend in low income areas and "give back" to the communities they are in. Some community banks do this willingly because it brings in more business for them, but in my experience, most banks meet the requirements of the CRA only because they have to do it. B of A is advertising that they are doing something they are required by law to do.

  4. Pamela Noga from WJMN-TV3, December 6, 2011 at 3:16 p.m.

    Bank of America can't win? Nice sentiment, but I doubt it. Mind if I use that as my new mantra?

  5. Richard Aylward from Hallmark Data Services, December 6, 2011 at 3:19 p.m.

    Google SEC sues Bank of America. Or pick any bank, JP Morgan Chase, Citicorp, etc and we find out why they all need a PR campaign.

  6. Herb Neu from Herb Neu & Friends, December 6, 2011 at 3:28 p.m.

    Did anyone watch "60-Minutes on Dec. 5th? B of A is a good reason why deregulation didn't and still doesn't work and the reason why very few people trust the federal government, has not even looked into their incredible malfeasance and law-breaking.

  7. Pamela Horovitz from Internet Video Archive, December 6, 2011 at 3:35 p.m.

    I disagree that BofA is in an 'impossible' situation. Whatever happened to saying 'we're sorry - we haven't done as good a job as we should. We're going to try to do better and here's how we plan to do that.'?

  8. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, December 6, 2011 at 4:31 p.m.

    Hello all ! Now that there are more calls to re-regulate, we should know up front that the only entity that can regulate is the Federal Government, the same entity that allowed deregulation to consume their customers. Does the government itself need more oversight ? Of course. Do we all have to stop repressing the ability of government to regulate and do so without financial institutions lobbyist pressure to make bad deals for the majority of the people who pay them ? If anyone thinks financial institutions or any other business will stay honest and fair because they say so are living in fairytale land with feudal fealty and dragons. If they don't have to make their business palatable for anyone but themselves, they won't because......they don't have to without regulation and consequences.

  9. Steven Lentz from Lifevideos.com, December 6, 2011 at 4:42 p.m.

    Posted on October 18, 2011 by WashingtonsBlog
    The Federal Reserve and Bank of America Initiate a Coup to Dump Billions of Dollars of Losses on the American Taxpayer
    Bloomberg reports that Bank of America is dumping derivatives onto a subsidiary which is insured by the government – i.e. taxpayers.

    So let’s see what we have here.
    Bank customer initiates a swap position with Bank. In doing so they intentionally accept the credit risk of the institution they trade with.
    Later they get antsy about perhaps not getting paid. Bank then shifts that risk to a place where people who deposited their money and had no part of this transaction wind up backstopping it.
    This effectively makes the depositor the “guarantor” of the swap ex-post-facto.
    That the regulators are allowing this is an outrage.
    BoA uses the feel good about us ad approach to keep customers who do not read the internet to find out what else the management has in mind.

  10. Joe Bencharsky from iNet Entertainment, December 6, 2011 at 10:33 p.m.

    HOw about a bit of perspective. After the crash of the 1920's the finance industry was given a choice: enact your own self-governing regulations or the government will do it for you.

    These practices and oversights have now been dismantled over the past 8 decades, and you have seen the result. BofA started in San Francisco as the Bank of italy and doing micro loans to the local Italian community. It has gone a far cry from that point and has adopted a Machiavellian management approach: admit no wrong, resist all challenges to policy, pay no court awarded settlements, never negotiate.

    They turned over a client's assets to someone else of the same name, and claimed no responsibility, they have foreclosed on properties for which there were no mortgages, lost in court, not paid the awards, and had Sheriffs liquidate assets from local branches to settle the court awards. They have prematurely prosecuted foreclosures, illegally, and never attempted to make appropriate reparation.

    For convenience sake, I had been a client for over 30 years, but have now moved all of my banking to a smaller and more responsive local bank, with a lot bigger integrity.

    A.P. Giannini is rolling over in his grave.

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