The video was produced by the Center For Audit Quality (CAQ), a nonpartisan, nonprofit group based in Washington, D.C. affiliated with the American Institute of CPAs. The video kicks off an education campaign about the system of investor protection. But using film noir technique and cartoon characters to educate investors about an important issue like investor protection is bizarre.
Film noir was used extensively in the 1940s and 1950s, according to Wikipedia, to make Hollywood crime dramas, “particularly those that emphasize cynical attitudes and sexual motivations.” These movies often featured a Hollywood detective in the starring role, and he usually narrates the action.
“On the US stock exchanges, money is like cheap liquor at happy hour—everybody wants some,” says a narrator of the investor protection video. “Financial reporting is our racket and it’s no game.”
The main characters in the video, according to a CAQ press release, are:
Ledger Lines, an external auditor with a granite chin;
Lotta Charts, a CFO and a whiz with the books;
Indy Pendent, the chair of the independent audit committee and a man of integrity;
Ida Figures, an internal auditor who’s tough on the numbers; and
Johnny Law, the cop on the beat who makes sure that everyone is playing by the rules.
I worked for the AICPA from 1983 to 1986 ghostwriting a newspaper column, and I really like CPAs. But they have proven to me over and over that, as a group, they are tone deaf at marketing.
In the early 1980s, I was at a committee meeting when the AICPA decided to sponsor a float in the Rose Bowl. It cost members of AICPA tens of thousands of dollars. At the time, CPAs were under fire for missing massive frauds in audits, like Penn Square Bank and Continental Illinois National Bank and Trust Company.
I thought a Rose Bowl float was preposterous, but I was a junior member of the staff. I kept my mouth shut.
The day after the Rose Bowl, the AICPA’s float made the front page of the Wall Street Journal. It was ridiculed.
Nearly 30 years later, not much has changed.
While it’s commendable that CPAs want to educate the public about the role of audits in our system of investor protection, it’s not a topic that you need to be cute with. It’s a serious issue. It’s not just condescending to resort to stylized cartoons to deliver a message on investor protection, it also undermines the credibility of the CPA profession.