A correction has been made in this story. See below for details.
Financial-services firm Ameriprise has unveiled a round of spots in which the company, via its spokesman Tommy Lee Jones, notes that in its entire history, it's never taken a bailout. "Since Ameriprise Financial was founded back in 1894, they've been committed to putting clients first. Helping generations through tough times, good times, never taking a bailout. There when you need them," says Jones in the ad from Interpublic's R/GA.
It should be pointed out that Ameriprise isn't exactly a bank. It manages other people's money and makes money off the fees for doing so -- as opposed to taking a consumer's money and lending it out to others. Banks got themselves into a fair amount of trouble by loaning your money and received bailouts. Ameriprise probably wouldn't have received a bailout even if it had done something really, really boneheaded; more likely, the industry-funded Securities Investor Protection Corp., rather than the government, would step in to protect customer accounts if Ameriprise failed.
That said, Ameriprise does compete in the financial-services business against firms that did receive support, so the claim is a fair one -- and a smart way to catch the consumer's attention.
Ameriprise, of course, isn't the first to make such a boast in its advertising. Just last month Ford, as part of its "Press Conference" series of ads, featured an F-150 owner who proclaimed: "I wasn't going to buy any another car that was bailed out by our government. I was going to buy from a manufacturer that 's standing on their own, win, lose, or draw. That's what America's about is taking the chance to succeed and understanding when you fail that you gotta pick yourself up and go back to work. Ford is that company for me." (We'd wondered back in 2009 if and when Ford would try this approach.)
Interestingly, there hasn't been widespread controversy in the wake of either spot. This is particularly surprising in regard to the Ford ad, which was not only picked up by The Drudge Report, but was also the subject of a conspiracy theory claiming that the Obama administration demanded that Ford take the ad down. (We say conspiracy theory because, as inclined as we are to believe the worst about politicians, the column in which the claim surfaced was about as thinly sourced as a James Frey memoir -- and both Ford and the Obama administration denied any such thing went down.)
Ameriprise correctly says we were "blatantly incorrect" on two major points. First, Ameriprise Financial's diverse operations do include a bank, Ameriprise Bank FSB, opened in 2006 and insured by the FDIC.
Second, Ameriprise did qualify for (and apply for) a bailout during the 2008-2009 financial meltdown. Ameriprise filed an application to get TARP bailout money from the Treasury Department under the Trouble Asset Relief Program's Capital Purchase Program.
The government approved Ameriprise's application for a bailout, but Ameriprise in May 2009 declined to take the money. The company's CEO explained in a press release at that time: "While we appreciate Treasury's approval of our application, we have elected not to accept funding."
Apologies to Ameriprise, and thanks for not taking a handout from taxpayers.
P.S. We do like your campaign.