Bank of America marketing: how to lose customers on a grand scale


Well, growing a business ethically continues to defy Bank of America. First, it duped shareholders by concealing girnormous losses at Merrill-Lynch last year — then it agreed to paying ML’s brokers astronomical bonuses, all apparently in exchange for an extra $50B in TARP funding.

Next, it pissed off a Federal judge who wouldn’t let BofA off the hook for the ML debacle. The judge simply refused to approve a sweetheart settlement.

Now, its CEO is leaving early…much to the relief of taxpayers, shareholders and John Thain (who’s looking for a new office to redecorate for millions of dollars). And, worst of all from BofA’s perspective, slamming credit card customers is going to be much harder next year because Congress passed new, long-overdue credit card regulations.

So, I guess it’s no surprise that BofA’s marketing is as ham-handed and tin-eared as the rest of the company. Consider this: the well-known WalletBlog has taken Bank of America to task for misleading customers and congressmen on credit card charges. First, Bank of America said it wouldn’t increase fees; then it announced it will. When WalletBlog pointed this out, they got a call from BofA corporate communications, trying to explain how a fee increase isn’t a fee increase by using Clintonesque parsing of words like “pricing.”

OK, so I don’t begrudge a PR type arguing strict meanings with bloggers; they have lawyers who can assure them that the plain meaning of their promise to not raise fees — what normal people understand — doesn’t count…that it’s OK to write a letter to legislators that sounds like a commitment, then decide to do what they really want to: fleece people.

But what shows how completely off the planet BofA is…how tin-eared they are…is their request to WalletBlog to lay off:

Naturally, at the end of our call, Bank of America asked that we stop circulating our blog post from last week. But we’re going to hold off on that until they provide the public with some clearer answers. The more digging we do, the more it seems like Bank of America should be taken to task. And it’s possible that we’ve just cracked the surface.

Anyone with half a day’s experience in press relations knows you never ask a writer, blogger or journalist to retract a story in the absence of factual errors. It’s guaranteed to produce exactly what this did: a mention of your arrogance along with an enhanced determination to keep the story going.

Would BofA have asked the Wall Street Journal to recall copies of the paper with a story it didn’t like? How about asking MSNBC to stop talking about a story like this? No…it’s only because the fool who called WalletBlog thinks less of new media — that it can be more easily controlled — that he or she asked WalletBlog to quash the story. It’s emblematic of problems not just in the risk management side of BofA, but throughout the entire bank.

My message to the WalletBlog: keep it up and don’t ever consider retracting something because some corp comm hack who thinks you’re unimportant asks you to leave them alone.






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