The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has launched a public relations campaign, seemingly in the wake of some recent bad publicity. The year already has seen the bureau constitutionality challenged in court, a significant reform bill introduced in the House, and an advertisement airing during the Republican debates that likened it to a Soviet bureaucracy. “The CFPB is a new agency with a mission and mandate that requires direct engagement with American consumers,” spokeswoman Moira Vahey said about the PR campaign. “We are using all available channels to engage the people we serve.”
Trumpeting its work is nothing new to the CFPB. Its website has prominent reminders that the bureau has processed more than 800,000 complaints resulting in $11.2 billion in relief for more than 24 million consumers. However, the current expenditures are noteworthy. The CFPB 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.
The advertising money flows almost exclusively through a single contract made with the same firm, GMMB, used by the presidential campaigns of both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. The contract is actually the 10th-largest awarded for advertising by a government agency, out of about 2,000 issued as of the end of FY 2015. A GMMB partner told the Wall Street Journal that most of the money goes to media placement and demographic testing.
All together, the CFPB is spending 2.5 percent of its annual budget on advertising. That is almost double what it spend last year. In fact, nearly all other departments and agencies spent well below 1 percent, according to The Wall Street Journal. One-third of all the money the CFPB has spent in 2016 on contracts with outside entities has been for advertising.
The CFPB claims that the expenditures are not related to recent events, but rather are part of a digital marketing plan laid out back in 2013. The goal of the campaign is to “reach consumers when they are most likely to need our help,” the bureau said. “Consumers who are in financial trouble or who are seeking financial information often turn to popular search engine websites or browse popular financial websites. We want those consumers to easily find our free and unbiased information before they make a financial decision that could have a huge impact on their lives.”