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4 Cynical Ad Campaigns by Corporations Desperate to Persuade Us That They're Not Evil

Corporations have turned to selling their likeability, not their products, as people grow furious at them.

This article was published in collaboration with

With an increasing number of people enraged at banks and corporations, these mighty pillars seem to believe they need to curry favor with the public. So instead of advertising campaigns designed to sell us their products, many corporations are attempting to sell us their likability. What's even crazier is that they don’t seem to realize they are contributing to the problems they claim to solve.

All of the ads below were seen recently on popular news sites such as the New York Times and the Washington Post.

1. Wells Fargo

“What is Wells Fargo doing on a local level in San Francisco?” the nation’s largest mortgage servicer asks in one of its ad campaigns, to which a community relations manager answers: “We’re helping create affordable housing for homeless veterans.” Except, Wells Fargo is also foreclosing on them. Take Benjamin Reed, a Tuskegee Air Force veteran in his 80s whose home in San Francisco is being foreclosed on by Wells Fargo. Reed served in the Air Force for 30 years.

During San Francisco’s Occupy anniversary actions, Reed’s son spoke out at a rally held for veterans who faced eviction in the city. He said that his parents have paid Wells Fargo $3,000 per application for a loan modification “for them to do nothing.” His parents also had counsel, costing them $100,000 of their retirement money. The four-year battle “must have taken 10 years off their lives,” Reed's son said.

2. Goldman Sachs

In Goldman Sachs’ campaign “10,000 Women,” the corporation claims to be “helping underserved women and their communities around the world.” So, yes, all the white, wealthy men that lead Goldman Sachs have put on their savior brain caps to rescue third-world women. How are they doing it? By trying to provide 10,000 women with an education in business. 

Their poster child is Kabeh Sumbo, a Liberian woman who graduated from the 10,000 Women program and started her own business. Before the program, Kabeh was a poor, struggling woman, but now, according to the ad, she’s a businesswoman — all thanks to Goldman Sachs. But while the huge investment banking firm lauds its accomplishments, you won’t hear it question why these women are poor and struggling in the first place. 

As African activist Salih Booker said in an interview:

Liberia was created in 1822 by the American Colonization Society. Representatives of America's ruling elites … promoted black emigration to rid the U.S. of Africans freed from slavery. … Since then, the United States has consistently refused to accept its responsibilities as Liberia's patron. Instead, it has mercilessly exploited Liberia and its people to satisfy America's global interests.

As arguably the largest contributor to the U.S. financial crisis, resulting in millions of foreclosures and the loss of millions of jobs (while making billions off of it), Goldman Sachs needs to use clever PR to tout its goodness. In fact, earlier this spring a scathing op-ed was published in the New York Times by Greg Smith, who, according to Daily Finance, headed up Goldman Sachs' "equity derivatives business in Europe, the Middle East and Africa." Smith wrote, "I attend derivatives sales meetings where not a single minute is spent asking questions about how we can help these clients. It's purely about how we can make the most possible money off of them."

3. Chevron

Apparently, Big Oil is concerned about our children’s future. No one would have guessed it. After all, there’s an anti-Chevron campaign demanding the corporation pay $19 billion in environmental damages for dumping more than 18 billion gallons of toxic wastewater and spilling roughly 17 million gallons of crude oil in the Ecuadorian Amazon — which killed children. In fact, more than 1,400 people have died of cancers attributed to Chevron’s hazardous act, which has been deemed one of largest environmental disasters in history. Since then, Chevron’s record has not been much better. Just last year, Chevron spilled about 155,000 gallons of crude oil off the coast of Rio de Janeiro. And only two months ago, one of its refineries in California exploded, sending dangerous pollution into neighboring communities. Clearly, people are not happy with Chevron, and so what better to do then claim it cares about children?