While one might think an organization with the words “consumer protection” in the name would not have much of a PR mountain to climb, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has always been unique.
Facing an increasing amount of criticism of late — not to mention a few not-so-favorable decisions regarding the constitutionality of its actions in federal court — the CFPB is looking for some goodwill and hoping to get it by one of America’s more time-honored traditions: an expensive advertising campaign.
The five-year-old Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has spent $15.3 million thus far this year buying up internet ads aimed at promoting the online tools it offers to help consumers shop more discerningly for financial products. The campaign represents a larger expenditure of budget than any other federal agency is making, according to government records, and mostly flows through a single contract. It is actually the 10th largest advertising awarded by a government agency, out of about 2,000 or so issued as of the end of FY 2015.
Currently, the CFPB is spending more on advertising than the Defense and Transportation departments, according to USASpending.gov, a database that makes public government contracts with private sector companies.
“The CFPB is a new agency with a mission and mandate that requires direct engagement with American consumers,” spokeswoman Moira Vahey said in an email. “We are using all available channels to engage the people we serve.”
And the CFPB also has some ads it is looking to answer, particularly those funded by conservative-leaning advocacy groups. One favorite that premiered during a Republican primary debate last fall featured images of the CFPB that made it look like a hellish Soviet bureaucracy. The agency the CFPB primarily uses is the same firm used by the presidential campaigns of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.
All in, the CFPB is throwing 2.5 percent of its annual budget at ads — a high figure but in line with what other agencies, like the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Food and Drug Administration and Peace Corps, have all spent in a single year on ads. Nearly all other departments and agencies spent well below 1 percent, according to The Wall Street Journal.
According to a contract with GMMB, the consumer watchdog will run online advertisements to “grow awareness and trust of the CFPB as a resource for free and unbiased information regarding consumer financial products and services among financially active consumers.”