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Financial Institutions Sure Can Spin A Silver Lining

This fall's stock market meltdown is affecting virtually every segment of the U.S. economy, from retail to restaurants to ratings for cable business networks. But not everyone is waving the white flag.

When Wall Street went Chernobyl, the natural instinct for financial players was merely to survive the toxic fallout. But now the instinct is to find the silver lining in the economic radiation clouds and spin it into gold. And there's plenty of opportunity for bear-marketeers to profit from misfortune.

Start with financial institutions battling over whatever money's left from the Down Jones. The New York Times reports: "In advertising, many financial institutions are racing to reassure consumers with soothing messages that focus on important 'S' words: strength, safety, stability, security."

OK, let's have a look. A Fidelity Investments newspaper ad goes three for four, touting "strength and stability in volatile times," thanks to money market funds that are "safe and stable." That's two stables, no waiting.

Wells Fargo Private Bank also promises strength and stability, while Merrill Lynch sticks with its traditional bull. A newspaper ad proclaims, "If you're bullish on America, and we are, then you're bullish on getting up and coming back."

Or going back, maybe, to a regular old bank. Locally, Citizens Bank takes the "S" train with an ad headlined, "Your money is safe with us." Sovereign Bank doubles down by promising "a safe way to save" thanks to "More Safety, Security, [and] FDIC Insurance."

It's all circular enough to give you vertigo.

Enter fiscal fitness diva Suze Orman, who has built a media empire out of TV appearances, books, and videos that are a virtual Pez dispenser of personal-finance advice. Orman's stock as an advertising pitchwoman has soared over the past months, although the Wall Street Journal reports that she won't do banking endorsements.

But Orman is fronting a new campaign for the FDIC, the federal agency that backs consumer bank deposits. One TV spot in the campaign begins with Orman holding a penny up to the camera.

Of course, in times like these, there are other options regular people turn to for safety, stability, etc. And so a second Orman commercial features a cautionary tale from the FDIC's "penny pitcher."

Recently I got a letter from a woman, who told me she took all of her money out of the bank and put it in a shoebox. What was she thinking?

Probably the same thing a lot of us are. I'm just sorry I haven't bought any shoes recently.

John Carroll is a mass communication professor at Boston University and senior media analyst for WBUR.

This program aired on October 24, 2008. The audio for this program is not available.

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