E-Trade’s New Ad Campaign Is Everything That’s Wrong With Capitalism

By using opulence to sell its investment services, the online broker patches together a plutocratic vision of the American dream, ignoring how entrenched inequality is–and how much more difficult it is to overcome.

The fact that there are eight men in the world–including Mark Facebook’s Zuckerberg and Amazon’s Jeff Bezos–who control more wealth than the world’s 3.6 billion poorest people, if nothing else, should inspire outrage. We envision these tycoons–and those just rungs below them on the economic ladder–hanging out on yachts, sipping gold-flecked champagne, blissfully unaffected by the rest of the world’s problems; we imagine them opening their wallets for luxuries like first-class airfare and private helicopters, while the rest of us struggle through patching together gig economy jobs and commuting on broken, unfunded subway rides.


If you want to fix the broken system that has caused this rampant disparity or interrogate what could be done to create more equity and opportunity for all, good for you. If you instead think, “that sounds good, as long as I am one of the eight people,” then you’ll love a new series of ad spots, created for the online investment platform E-Trade by their new contracted agency MullenLowe, takes the wealth concentrated obscenely at the top of the pyramid and dangles it in our faces to sell us something.

What they’re selling is the idea that by signing up for E-Trade and beginning your independent foray into investing, you, too, could become as filthy rich as the people swanning through their ad campaigns (results may vary, there’s a good chance you’ll lose your shirt).

In the videos, we see a lowly office worker, dismissed by a superior, sent spiraling into a wealth-fantasy soundtracked by Chaim Topol’s “If I Were A Rich Man” straight out of Fiddler On The Roof. But instead of wondering about the ethics of it all—do people as wealthy as his boss deserve to have their portrait painted, or attend pool parties in that end with everyone passed out in their finery? Does anybody? Should anybody even want to?—our hero leans in and opens an E-Trade account. “Don’t get mad,” the campaign says. “Get E-Trade.”

The other videos are similar—we see a guy shut out of first class on a plane attempt to claw his way there by signing up for E-Trade; we see a dude in an orange polo shirt dancing around with models on a yacht and we’re shamed into hearing that “the dumbest guy in high school just got a boat,” so why haven’t you? (It’s worth nothing that pretty much all of the stars of these spots are white men.)


By sending these ad spots out into the world, E-Trade is, essentially, perpetuating the American Dream fantasy that has already failed so many people, and remained inaccessible for many more. Sure, E-Trade bills itself as a discount stock brokerage firm, but it’s not free, and if your investment well runs dry, it’ll charge you up to $40 for insufficient funds.


There is no magic pill you can pop in the form of an E-Trade account to catapult yourself from average American to billionaire—nor should there be. When the wealth disparity advertised in these campaigns is both a symptom and a cause of America’s distressingly unsolved inequality crisis. Dismantling the system that enables these lavish lifestyles, not bringing more people into the fold and leaving behind the around 45 million Americans who live below the poverty line, should be the focus.

And if you want to invest, here are some responsible, sustainable ways to do so.

About the author

Eillie Anzilotti is an assistant editor for Fast Company's Ideas section, covering sustainability, social good, and alternative economies. Previously, she wrote for CityLab.