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

This article was published in collaboration with GlobalPossibilities.org.

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?

Chevron’s new “We Agree” campaign includes other ads, such as “Shale Gas Needs to Be Good For Everyone — We Agree.” See, that’s the kind of manipulative ad I expect from an oil and gas corporation (though it’s not too hard to find that one of its fracking pipes already leaked in Pennsylvania earlier this year). But “we care about children” is sickening. How about trying not to destroy the planet so that children can continue to live on it?

Note: Exxon Mobil has a similar ad campaign, claiming it is investing in students and teacher by giving millions to math and science programs.

4. Morgan Stanley


Who is making capitalism responsible? When I saw the ad making such a bold statement, I just had to click it and to my surprise it was Morgan Stanley. Yup, foreclosure-gambling-corrupt Morgan Stanley is somehow fighting an out-of-control economic structure. 

How? According to its new “What if” ad campaign, the huge financial services corporation is tackling this large task by simply listening to its customers and maintaining responsible practices. Who knew it was so easy? As one of the Morgan Stanley employees says in the ad: “If you can look yourself in the mirror and say, ‘I would do this for myself, I would do this for my mother, my father,’ then you feel good about it.”

But we all know what Morgan Stanley is really doing about capitalism: upholding it. The list of corrupt acts the corporation has performed is long and damaging. And Morgan Stanley continues to make irresponsible decisions and risky bets with its over $50 trillion  in derivatives. Just this week it was charged with insider trading.

Still, the employee says in the ad: “If you’re doing anything for trade, the commission, the ticket to get your numbers up, none of that is going to work long-term. Your name and your reputation — that’s all you have.” Morgan Stanley, you have a horrible reputation no matter how much money you spend telling us how great and dependable you are.

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