You’ve seen the ads: a slick guy in a suit offers a little girl a pony and hands her a plastic toy, then he offers a second girl a pony only he gives her a real one! The first girl is ticked off, “You didn’t say I could have a real one.” The suit shrugs, “You didn’t ask.” A voice-over hammers us with the message: “Even kids know it’s wrong to hold out on somebody. Why don’t banks?” And then we are introduced to a new kind of bank: Ally.
Actually Ally is an old bank with a new name. It used to be GMAC — General Motors Acceptance Corporation — but after 2008 they decided to get rid of the words “General Motors” because they are associated with bankruptcy and bailouts and so forth. “They” would be Ally’s management, the owners happen to be the People of the United States. After bailout, the American people own 74% of Ally Bank. Ally/GMAC actually received $16 Billion in bailout funds. It has repaid $3 B of that.
So newly-named Ally sought a new image and hired Bartle Bogle Hegarty (yes, sounds like an old car trying to start) to create a series of ads. The early campaign flatout called banks crooked and said You don’t have to take it any more, come to Us! Well, bankers are sensitive people and whined a little so Ally changed their ads to ones showing kids being ripped off. This upset some of the American people who complained but Ally just shrugged and said they were following Management’s directions.
In case you want to know, the kids are pro actors, but they weren’t let in on the secret — the disappointment at not getting a pony? That’s real.
Now Ally knows something about people being ripped off by banks because they’ve done a fair bit of it themselves. In fact, shortly after yanking some of their commercials, Ally announced that it was suspending foreclosures in 23 states that require a court order to foreclose. To get the order, the bank must submit an affadavit to a judge and swear that the debt really exists and that it is in arrears. The bank swears that it has reviewed all the documentation and that it is correct. But that didn’t happen. One employee, Jeffrey Stephan, has admitted to signing 10,000 documents a month and never examining any of them. A spokesperson for Ally Bank says that’s the mortgage division and has nothing to do with the bank commercials. And, in all fairness, Ally does seem to have lower and fewer fees than many other banks. (Though I should add two words here: Credit Union.)
Ally is now working on a new set of ads: a guy is in line at the supermarket, someone with a single item asks if they can get in front. Guy says sure, person ahead of him reaches the till and lights flash, balloons drop from the ceiling, a voice announces that “You’re our one millionth customer and we have $50000 for you!” Of course the guy who let the person in front of him is the ad’s focus. Here’s the story of how one guy felt about the situation; for him it was unpleasant. Now that guy thought that he was being filmed as part of a Reality Show but this person discovered, via an attorney, that it was Bartle Bogle Hegarty at work for Ally Bank. Some of the people being duped were paid for their appearance, some weren’t, some were never told the entire thing was a sham. You know, in an economy where a lot of people are desperate for money, the ad-makers are risking the chance that someone will pull a gun and start blowing folks away. Check out this remix.
But the best take on these ads is probably the one that features that little girl who didn’t get the pony, thirty years later, when she asks the suit if he’d like a job…