Advertising’s Role In The Mortgage Crisis

Today’s New York Times features an article that pulls no punches in suggesting that in recent years, more aggressive advertising prodded consumers to take out risky home equity loans:

“Live Richly.”
That catchy slogan, dreamed up by the Fallon Worldwide advertising agency, was pitched in 1999 to executives at Citicorp who were looking for a way to lure Americans to financial products like home equity loans. But some in the room did not like it. They worried the phrase would encourage people to live exorbitantly, says Stephen A. Cone, a top Citi marketer at the time.
Still, “Live Richly” won out. The advertising campaign, which cost some $1 billion from 2001 to 2006, urged people to lighten up about money and helped persuade hundreds of thousands of Citi customers to take out home equity loans — that is, to borrow against their homes. As one of the ads proclaimed: “There’s got to be at least $25,000 hidden in your house. We can help you find it.”
The portion of people who have home equity lines more than 30 days past due stands 55 percent above its average since the American Bankers Association began tracking it around 1990; delinquencies on home equity loans are 45 percent higher. Hundreds of thousands are delinquent, owing banks more than $10 billion on these loans, often on top of their first mortgages.
None of this would have been possible without a conscious effort by lenders, who have spent billions of dollars in advertising to change the language of home loans and with it Americans’ attitudes toward debt.

Yes, I know, I know: Personal responsibility. Advertising doesn’t force people to do anything. Consumers need to read the fine print. Don’t write checks your butt can’t cash.
But in example after example in this article (along with an accompanying visual slide show of ads), advertising sure made falling into debt sound easy and attractive. And throughout the economy, we’re paying the price for it.

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About Dan Goldgeier

Dan Goldgeier is a Seattle-based freelance copywriter with experience at advertising agencies across the U.S. He is a graduate of the Creative Circus ad school, and currently teaches at Seattle's School of Visual Concepts. Dan is also a columnist for TalentZoo.com and the author of View From The Cheap Seats and Killer Executions and Scrubbed Decks.