O-ho the Wells Fargo Wagon is-a comin’ down the street, and apparently it’s not interested in doing business with kids who aspire to the arts, their parents, their teachers, or arts organizations.
In promotional materials for their Teen Day on September 17 (because after all what kid doesn’t wasn’t to take time on a weekend to spend time at the bank), Wells Fargo has mounted a campaign that seems overtly dismissive of careers in the arts. While both they and I acknowledge that young people’s career interests may evolve over time, it seems strange that “yesterday’s” careers are ballerina and actor, while today’s careers are engineer and botanist. Clearly Wells Fargo is at least sufficiently self-aware not to have proposed banker as a present or future option.
On one flyer for Teen Day, Wells Fargo appear to compound their disdain by opining, “Your teen may not know what they want to be, but they know it will be something special.” Are careers in the arts, already left behind by the bank, not special? I know lots of actors, and I can say that the vast majority of them are pretty darn special. I suspect the same holds true for ballerinas.
By showing arts professions as professions which are to be put into the past, Wells Fargo has weirdly chosen to echo Old Navy’s misguided toddler onsie option from late 2015, where they changed the word “artist” in the phrase “young aspiring artist” to, giving buyers a choice, “astronaut” or “president.” That bit of salesmanship worked so well that Old Navy pulled the shirts within days and apologized for the offense.
So what to make of Wells Fargo leaving arts careers in the dust? It could mean that they’re not particularly interested in having a piece of the arts impact on the economy nationally, because surely even a portion of the annual “$135.2 billion of economic activity—$61.1 billion by the nation’s nonprofit arts and culture organizations in addition to $74.1 billion in event-related expenditures by their audiences,” according to Americans for the Arts, is small potatoes to the big shots at Wells Fargo. Wells Fargo is implying that it also is willing to leave on the table, once again citing Americans for the Arts, the “this economic activity supports 4.13 million full-time jobs and generates $86.68 billion in resident household income.”
Needless to say, I seriously doubt there are any banks that are uninterested in any legitimate segments of the market, since here in New York City there appear to be competing branches of major financial institutions on every street corner, hoping passersby will ultimately park their money there. So why make arts careers the example of what must be abandoned on the way to maturity? After all, before becoming an arts administrator, I once dreamed of being a “cowboy doctor,” giving that exotic pursuit up for the more mundane, steady world of entertainment.
While it is, admittedly, a holiday weekend, I wrote to multiple communications executives at Wells Fargo seeking comment on their campaign. As I post, I’ve not heard back from Oscar Suris, EVP of Corporate Communications; Arati Randolph at Corporate News, Enterprise Content, Executive Communications and New Media; Mark Folk, Head of Corporate Media Relations Corporate and Financial; Holly Rockwood, Marketing/Advertising (though an auto-reply message indicated she would not be checking e-mail); or New York state PR representative AnnMarie McDonald.
Should I hear from them, or if this should reach them through other means, I would like to point out that while careers in the arts take great commitment and often great sacrifice, young people aspiring to that work would in fact benefit from early financial education. Instead of shunting them aside for the engineers and botanists, especially in major urban markets, Wells Fargo might do well to market directly to them.
Even though Wells Fargo was immortalized in song in the Broadway musical The Music Man, an honor I can’t recall being bestowed on Citibank or TD Bank by any musical, it fails to recognize that its glib marketing is rapidly spreading on social media and alienating an entire market segment that actually cares about musicals, ballets, and the like. At the same time, it’s unlikely anyone is looking at their Teen Day promotions and saying, “Oh, good, Wells Fargo isn’t letting children entertain thoughts about arts careers. Kids, save time on September 17 for a field trip. That’s the bank we want”
While the bank’s Wild West heritage is now only a stagecoach image in their marketing, it’s one that over the past 24 hours, has lost its allure for countless friends, business associates and members of the arts community at large. Even were I to spot an actual vintage wagon comin’ down the street, I wouldn’t give it a second look. After all, I was a teen who dreamed of working in the arts and, four decades later, I still am. So after this dismissive, condescending campaign, I’m quite certain that the Wells Fargo wagon has absolutely nothing special just for me.
P.S. By the way, less than two weeks ago, Wells Fargo was fined $3.5 million dollars for misleading practices in connection with student loans. Should they be dispensing any advice about financial management to teens right now at all?
Update, September 3, 5 pm: Shortly after this post went live, I received an e-mail from Christina Kolbjornsen, SVP, Head of Marketing Communications in Wells Fargo’s Corporate Communications, responding to my prior inquiries and asking whether we should communicate via e-mail or voice. Because I was scheduled to conduct an interview on a separate subject, I sent Ms. Kolbjornsen a series of questions about the Teen Day campaign and the response to it, and received the following reply:
Wells Fargo is deeply committed to the arts, and we offer our sincere apology for the initial ads promoting our September 17 Teen Financial Education Day. They were intended to celebrate all the aspirations of young people and fell short of that goal. 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. Last year, Wells Fargo’s support of the arts, culture and education totaled $93 million.