A Bank’s Ads, Dressed Up in Historical Garb





EARLY in the first installment of “America: The Story of Us,” the 12-hour documentary series on the History cable channel that began on April 25 and covers 400 years of United States history, an actor depicting a British soldier bumps into another depicting Paul Revere, and the narrator Liev Schreiber says, “When revolution comes to North America, Revere will be at the center of it.”

Viewers might be momentarily confused when the screen goes dark, signaling a commercial break, only to light up again with men dressed in colonial garb on the cobblestone streets of Boston. The scene cuts to a bow-tied historian named K. C. Johnson, who tells an interviewer, “American colonies before the revolution existed for the economic good of the mother country,” and then to another historian, Steve Gillon, who adds, “The British used money as a way of keeping the Americans down.” Then, to a triumphant flourish of music, the Bank of America logo appears, along with the screen text, “Fueling progress, creating opportunity, building on our heritage.”

The first half of the two-minute spot, produced by the History Channel for Bank of America, the sponsor of the series, reveals the historical significance of the Massachusetts Bank, founded in 1784 and counting among its customers Paul Revere and John Hancock (and, owing to a series of acquisitions, part of Bank of America’s historical DNA). The second half of the commercial focuses on present-day New Bedford, Mass., where the mayor, Scott W. Lang, and other residents praise Bank of America for making loans for revitalization efforts.

The History Channel is producing 12 two-minute videos for Bank of America, each beginning in the same era as the episode, then jumping to a current example of the bank’s civic-mindedness. Representatives of the bank and the cable network do not describe the videos as commercials, preferring the terms “mini-documentaries” or “interstitial content.”...


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