Wells Fargo sparks firestorm over ads bashing the arts

07 Sep


Young people pursuing careers in the arts often have their hands full dealing with mom and dad’s worries about prospects for the life of a starving artist.

Now they have to deal with one of the nation’s most powerful banks expressing its trepidation over their career choices.

Wells Fargo set off a social-media firestorm over ads for its upcoming Teen Financial Education Day that touted smiling young people who had apparently seen the light. Next to one woman, the ad copy reads: “A ballerina yesterday, an engineer today.” Another featuring a smiling young man reads: “An actor yesterday, a botanist today.”

The artistic community took it as a slap in the face, with one actor tweeting, “I want @WellsFargo to stop managing my money if they don’t respect how I make it.”

Prominent artists and actors voiced their outrage, including singer Josh Groban, former Glee star Jenna Ushkowitz, and actor and singer Laura Benanti, the New York Times reported.

Wells Fargo was quick to circle the wagons over Labor Day weekend, offering an apology.

“Wells Fargo is deeply committed to the arts, and we offer our sincere apology for the initial ads promoting our Sept. 17 Teen Financial Education Day,” the bank tweeted Sept. 3. “They were intended to celebrate all the aspirations of young people and fell short of that goal.”

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The campaign left some scratching their heads. After all, Wells Fargo has donated billions of dollars over the years to support the arts, culture and education. Wells donated $93 million to such organizations last year alone. In the Bay Area, Wells last year donated $8.9 million to support a range of arts organizations, including the American Conservatory Theatre, Berkeley Repertory Theatre and the San Francisco Opera.

That support is clearly evident — at least to those of us outside the bank’s marketing department — in the fact that Wells Fargo’s name is splashed on theaters and playbills across the country.

Supporters of the arts definitely demonstrated that they have a sense of humor over the weekend. One actor suggested the bank revise the ads to read, “A banker yesterday, a ballerina today.”

Minutes after the bank apologized, one arts enthusiast tweeted that now’s a good time to submit that grant application.

In its apology, Wells said, “We are making changes to the campaign’s creative that better reflect our company’s core value of embracing diversity and inclusion, and our support of the arts.”

But Wells was mum Tuesday when asked to explain what inspired the ads bashing the arts. Was a marketing executive struggling with issues over their son or daughter’s decision to pursue a career in the arts? Did Wells Fargo’smarketing department think they could garner a lot of free publicity for the Teen Day event if the bank said something truly outrageous?

We may never know the answers to those questions, or another posed to the bank Tuesday morning, “Where does journalism fall on Wells Fargo’s spectrum of worthwhile careers?”

Ironically, many people passionate about the arts, culture — and yes, even journalism — have parlayed that experience into successful careers at Wells Fargo.


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