Reports are coming in about a new campaign bank lobbyists are considering to fight the establishment of an independent consumer protection agency: One idea that´s on the table, according to the Washington Post, is for a series of TV ads modeled after the "Harry and Louise" spots that aired during Clinton administration´s health care reform effort. Harry and Louise were everymen, a middle class couple lamenting the loss of their good private healthcare plans for coverage "designed by government bureaucrats." The thrust of this new campaign would be that a consumer protection regulator would stifle innovation and generally deprive consumers of more choices.
"The more important point is the risk that this agency creates could end up harming consumers. That´s the message we´re trying to get out. It could end up stifling creativity, innovation and access to credit and capital," Scott Talbott, the senior vice president of government affairs at the Financial Services Roundtable told BankThink (he´s also quoted in the WP story today). Of the Harry and Louise idea, he added: "It´s simply an option that we´re thinking about-nothing has been planned."
Nevertheless, Talbott said, lobbying to head off the creation of the consumer products regulator is beginning "now."
Two things: One, some lobbyists are already disowning the campaign as the WP presents it-they say it isn´t as cohesive a front, and that not every group thinks a TV ad campaign is necessary.
Two: Given what else is on TV right now, does anyone really think a Harry and Louise-style campaign would work? The media environment has changed considerably since the 1990s. Fox News has likely already turned a great deal of its viewers against the idea of a consumer products regulator, which represents more government, but even Fox has to compete with a prevailing view that financial firms can´t be trusted.
Other TV ads are actually articulating that notion. The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, a self-regulatory body, just launched a series of radio and TV ads that warns consumers that not every broker is telling the truth. Meanwhile, Charles Schwab has been airing cartoon-styled "Talk to Chuck" commercials in which financial consumers talk about the epiphanies they´ve had about previous financial advisors giving them a raw deal. And Ally Bank, the new brand that has emerged from the tattered GMAC Financial Services, is (ironically enough) promoting itself through a series of spots depicting children indignantly rejecting unfair "special offers" based on their obvious logical inconsistencies.
And what of Harry and Louise the actual characters? They´ve already been expropriated to the other side: They appeared in a 2008 commercial put out by healthcare advocacy groups asking the presidential candidates to focus first on healthcare reform.
There´s a lot of material out there telling consumers that they should be wary of the things banks try to sell them. Lobbyists on the other side of that sentiment could be facing a Sisyphean challenge.