Is it just us, or is Charles Schwab’s Talk to Chuck ad campaign seeming more and more angry?

Featuring rotoscoped non-actors talking about their investment woes, the TV ads debuted five year ago to plenty of praise. “It’s refreshing to see a little informality from a financial services firm,” said Seth Stevenson at Slate, and right he was. The animation, courtesy of Bob Sabistan’s Flat Black Films, was sophisticated without seeming pretentious, and it just looked effing cool.



Much like the new Windows Phone ad that promises to save us from our phones, the Talk to Chuck campaign thrived on cognitive dissonance. The core message was: All our competitors suck, but you should use us, because we’re different, and we don’t suck, promise!



This kind of campaign works because of the assumption that the consumer, at least on a visceral level, won’t associate Charles Schwab with the problems persistent at other financial services firms. But when the Great Recession hit and people began to lose the hard-earned savings they’d invested with the help of companies like Charles Schwab, Chuck decided to double-down and really play into people’s frustrations. (Note the decline in animation quality too, but more on that in a sec.)



“We needed to update our messaging to stay grounded in the new consumer insights that are developing, and the skepticism and loss of confidence that consumers are experiencing,” a Charles Schwab flack told Direct Marketing News in 2009. “We also wanted to communicate to people that they are not powerless in this economy and demonstrate the full breadth of Schwab’s offerings.”

The latest batch of TV ads takes us off the street and into a studio, but the seething frustration is still there. Check out the look in the guy’s eyes when he says “give me a break” at the end of this next clip.



Along the way the quality of the animation also went way down. Gone is the signature look of Flat Black Films. Charles Schwab went with a knockoff company in 2009, and the later rounds of commercials look like someone just ran the frames through a filter in Photoshop. Were we not supposed to notice? Maybe Chuck figured we were too busy being MAD AS HELL AND NOT GOING TO TAKE IT ANYMORE!

The ads always have been about dissatisfaction. The guys in the two videos up top are definitely not chipper. But context is everything, and after a year’s worth of angry Tea Party signs and people demanding to KEEP YOUR GOVERNMENT HANDS OFF MY MEDICARE, we’ve got to wonder just what kind of message Chuck is peddling.

Greed is good, said Gordon Gekko. Maybe Charles Schwab is trying to tell us anger is awesome.