Banks have laid off thousands of people since the financial crisis, foreclosed upon millions of struggling homeowners and helped to upend the world's economy but what really riles some customers is one bank's endorsement of mild profanity.
Capital One (COF) last week unveiled a commercial featuring the actor Samuel L. Jackson and his celebrated forthright delivery, including of a promise to offer credit card rewards "every damn day." The profanity is tame by most standards, especially from someone known for using much saltier language in films like "Snakes on a Plane."
But the commercial sparked an outsized reaction from angry commenters at various websites, including AmericanBanker.com, BankInnovation.net, and credit card discussion forums. Some of those people threatened to close their accounts or stop using their cards. Now Capital One is replacing at least some airings of the profanity-laced ad with a more G-rated version, in which Jackson promises rewards "every single day."
Bank spokeswoman Pam Girardo said the second version of the commercial was part of a planned series featuring Jackson and Capital One's new Quicksilver credit card.
"The first ad was designed to draw attention to the new campaign," Girardo said in an email. "Our next ads that began airing this week continue to showcase Jackson in a direct and humorous way by dramatizing the ease and superiority of Quicksilver."
She did not respond to questions about the backlash or whether the McLean, Va., bank would continue airing the more "attention-drawing" first commercials.
At least some of the online anger over Jackson's commercial appears to have been marshaled by One Million Moms, a branch of the conservative media watchdog group American Family Association. Its website urges supporters to email Capital One with protests over "the d-word" and requests to pull the "irresponsible and offensive" commercial. (One Million Moms' other current targets include the new NBC series "Dracula," which will "warp the minds of our youth," and Slim Fast, which is airing "inappropriate and tacky" commercials.)
Monica Cole, executive director of One Million Moms, said the organization did not encourage its members to leave angry comments on other websites, "but we do encourage anyone to speak out and let their voice be heard. Profanity has no place anywhere, really."
Cole says her group has not yet asked its members to stop using their Capital One cards or switch their bank accounts. But bank industry members say Capital One might even be pleased by others' threats to do so.
"I think the people who will close their accounts for a single word aren't necessarily the people Capital One wants to appeal to," says Jim Marous, a senior vice president of corporate development at digital marketing agency New Control.
Jackson, like fellow Capital One celebrity endorsers Alec Baldwin and Jimmy Fallon, is "highly recognizable" to younger people, who are more likely to be amused than upset by the commercial's language, Marous says.
Writing a "damn" into Jackson's script was likely "a conscious decision," he adds. "It's making a point that certainly Chase and Bank of America and Wells can't make, that we're going to look at banking a little differently. It probably reinforces a brand more than takes away from it."