'Rescued' Marketers Must Earn Back Consumer Trust

An Ad Age Editorial

Published on .

Note to those marketers lucky enough to be "rescued" by the government: That bailout isn't a get-out-of-jail-free card.

Why? It's simple. Despite the self-congratulatory hosannas raining down from Capitol Hill after a handful of companies were rescued and the $700 billion "Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008" was passed, voters -- also known as consumers -- think the whole thing stinks. One congressman, Republican Paul Broun of Georgia, called the bill "a huge cow pie with a bit of marshmallow in it."

Consumers have a dimmer view of it. Worse, they have a dimmer view of you, the companies (and executives) rescued by the bill.

You may see yourselves as victims caught up in a dense cloud of numbers, derivatives and bad mortgages beyond your control. But the rest of the country blames you. The rest of the country sees well-compensated fat cats who took piles of investors' money and, in essence, went to the local track and spent it all on the gimpiest horse in the barn. Then, when the horse died in the starting gate, you demanded that the taxpayers bail you out.

If you're a rescued company, you have twice the work to do to rescue your brands and win consumers' trust. On top of getting your business in order, you have to be contrite and show that you understand what a gift you've been given.

Unlike AIG, for example. Executives of the beleaguered insurance company spent $440,000 for an event held at a California spa -- after the feds dropped an $85 billion bailout package in their laps. According to the Washington Post, "$9,982 was spent on food and drinks...; $6,939 on golf; $1,488 at the Vogue Salon; and $1,450 on no-show and cancellation fees."

The company, completely missing the point, claimed this was all planned beforehand. We'd venture that even the slowest student in an introductory PR class could have told the executives to cancel the retreat -- even if it meant eating the deposit.

The retreat not only showed a lack of common sense, it showed a lack of basic business sense and acted as a middle finger in the eye to politicians and consumers alike.

Going forward, those of you who've been bailed out need to do better.
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