WASHINGTON — The giant insurance company that became the recipient of one of the biggest — and least popular — bailouts in history has a message for the American taxpayer: Hey, thanks a lot!
Just weeks after the Treasury sold off its final stake in AIG and closed out one of the ugliest chapters of the 2008 financial crisis, the recipient of $180 billion in capital injections and loans is launching a new public relations offensive to try to rebuild a, shall we say, strained relationship with the average consumer.
The advertising campaign is titled "Thank You America," the company said in a news release Monday, and it debuts New Year's Day. It spotlights the insurers' employees "telling AIG's story and sharing their pride in the company" and showing how the company has helped America rebuild after devastation — such as in Joplin, Mo., after a devastating tornado and in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Look for the ads in college football bowl games, NFL playoff games and news shows including "The Today Show," "Good Morning America" and "60 Minutes."
Now that taxpayers have sold off their stake in the company — and made a tidy $22 billion profit in the process — it is perhaps not surprising that AIG wants to recast its image. It is reminiscent of the memorable Clint Eastwood Chrysler commercial in last year's Super Bowl that managed to make buying a car from another bailed-out company (and one now run by Italians) feel like a patriotic duty. "This country can't be knocked out with one punch," Eastwood growled. "We get right back up again, and when we do the world is going to hear the roar of our engines."
And the "Thank You America" message shows how much things have changed in the four years since AIG's federal rescue. In February of 2009, for example, the company drew a fusillade of criticism for plans to pay bonuses to workers who were unwinding the complex financial deals that had brought AIG to the brink of bankruptcy. Outraged members of Congress called for the company to ignore its contracts with those workers.