Last week Wells Fargo Bank’s advertising department blundered badly into a politically incorrect mess by saying that the arts one pursues as a child give way to careers in engineering or botany. Never mind that it’s equally true for child actors. Most stay in for five years at the most, and then quit. But that doesn’t matter. The ad was insensitive to The Arts and creatives lashed out.
We predicted they would pull the ad immediately and issue a retraction. They did almost immediately. By September 6, their formal apology hit the media, with their strong commitment to the arts, culture and education of close to $93 million. They didn’t specify how much of that amount went to art. Most likely the bulk went to education.
Foolish as the ad was, the opportunities to offend are so vast, how does any business find ad material that won’t make one group or another furious? By embracing everything they can fit into a thirty second spot. Another choice is to select the most fragile and support them, leaving a wake of annoyances behind them. This is why a local Los Angeles radio station tried to define their audience based on numbers, and offended an entire listening bloc in a ten second sentence that discounted the personal beliefs of thousands of loyal listeners.
We can and did get upset with Wells Fargo, but there is so much more we could have spoken up about, including the ridiculous dance parents must go through to open a Coogan. Banks that charged fees on “no fee” accounts because they thought they could get away with it and almost did–just ask Bank of America. The Wells Fargo ad and the replacement announcements are not the last we will hear of PC run amok. Nor should it be if businesses can’t get this right.