SAN FRANCISCO – CBS won’t show a Charles Schwab television commercial drawing a sleazy picture of Wall Street stock brokerages at a time the industry is fending off charges of abusive sales practices.
The derisive Schwab commercial, which other TV networks are airing, features an executive urging brokers at an unidentified firm to tell customers that a stock is “red hot” even though the fundamentals “stink.”
After promising to reward whoever sells the most stock, the executive implores the brokers to “put some lipstick on this pig.”
The derogatory language echoes descriptions used by Merrill Lynch analysts in e-mail discussions of stocks recommended as good investments to the firm’s customers. After the e-mails were passed on to New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, Merrill Lynch last month paid $100 million to settle allegations it recommended troubled stocks to win lucrative investment banking fees.
San Francisco-based Schwab said the commercial — part of an advertising campaign launched May 16 — wasn’t spurred by the early April revelation of the Merrill Lynch e-mails obtained by Spitzer.
“It was not inspired by any particular firm,” Schwab spokesman Glen Mathison said. “It was inspired by the generally reported and documented practices of Wall Street brokerages.”
The sales practices of other prominent investment banks also are under scrutiny.
Some analysts said they suspect CBS’s refusal to air the Schwab ad has to do with the network’s finances.
Merrill Lynch does more business with CBS than Schwab, a factor that probably led the network “to think like an investment bank — they went with the one paying them the most money,” said brokerage industry analyst Justin Hughes of Robertson Stephens.
But CBS spokesman Michael Silver denied Merrill Lynch’s financial clout swayed the network’s decision.
CBS rejected the Schwab commercial because it “impugns the motives of anyone who works for a big brokerage,” Silver said. “Our obligation is not to allow ads that unfairly disparage the competition.”
The network is showing three other Schwab ads included in a campaign touting the discount brokerage as a way to buy stocks without commission-driven salesman.
Several cable TV networks, including CNBC, CNN and Bravo, have already shown the ad rejected by CBS.
The ad was scheduled to debut Thursday night on NBC during the broadcast of the popular drama series “ER.” It’s also supposed to be shown during NBC’s upcoming telecasts of the NBA Finals, Belmont Stakes and the French Open.