TARP Recipients Must Defend Marketing Outlays

An Ad Age Editorial

Published on .

When you dance with the devil, you're bound to get burned. And those businesses that took bailout funds from the government are catching fire for normal -- and necessary -- business practices such as marketing.

Advertising, done right, is an investment in future business results. But advertising, in all its forms, has become a whipping boy for recipients of Troubled Asset Relief Program funds.

It's not hard to see why. With Congressional approval ratings at an all-time low and consumers getting increasingly distressed as the government gets set to spend trillions more of taxpayer dollars on the stimulus package and additional TARP relief, there's a need to prove that the initial $300 billion isn't being swirled down the drain.

Some marketers haven't helped the cause by conducting high-profile executive retreats, taking out foolishly needless advertising (such as the auto industry using taxpayer money to thank taxpayers for giving them taxpayer money) or continuing to pay executive bonuses that would embarrass King Midas.

So businesses have to do two things. First, do no harm (and show some restraint). Second, stand up and fight for what you know to be smart business practices. When economically illiterate politicians and the populist press go after your naming-rights deals, your advertising and your sales meetings, you should make your case heard loud and clear. Your companies need to make money to pay back money. Naming-rights deals provide good return on investment. Advertising draws more customers and hence more sales. Sales meetings -- within reason -- reward the very people who make your companies run.

Bank of America's spokesman did just that last week regarding naming-rights deals. "The investment that the U.S. taxpayer has made in Bank of America represents an obligation to pay back to the taxpayers with a premium," said Joe Goode. "And the only way that we're going to be able to pay back all our shareholders is pursuing business activities, like our relationship with the sports industry, that allow us to generate earnings."

But don't tell us. Tell Congress and the American people footing the bill.

Even if it means marching up to Capitol Hill, you must make the case for good business practices. And if you need some help doing so, we'll be right there with you.

Most Popular
In this article: