November 2, 2021

Messin’ With Asset Managers: BlackRock Prankster Hits Vanguard

Remember a few years ago, when a counterfeit letter purporting to be from BlackRock’s Larry Fink hit the street? Well, the folks who did that apparently had so much fun that they did it again – this time to Vanguard. This excerpt from an Institutional Investor article explains:

The team behind 2019’s fake letter from BlackRock chief executive officer Larry Fink has struck again. This time, they’ve targeted Vanguard and Marvel Entertainment, pitting the two against one another via dueling press releases sent to journalists on Tuesday. Since then, the Yes Men, a group of activist comedians, revealed that they orchestrated this stunt in an effort to push Vanguard toward action on climate change.

For major asset managers like Vanguard, whose exchange-traded funds require ownership of the market at large, acting on climate change is complicated. But because they’re targeting retail investors more than they have in the past, the general public has begun to push for more change.

On Tuesday, a fake press release from Vanguard announced that the firm had set up a “Sustainable Investments” department that would help it strategize on shareholder engagement. The faux announcement also claimed that by 2030, Vanguard would make “fossil-free and deforestation-free funds [the] default option” for investors, and that it would launch a “Vanguardians of the Galaxy” ESG fund for young investors.

In order to close the loop on the “Vanguardians of the Galaxy” thing, the Yes Men also issued a fake press release from Marvel. Fake Marvel characterized Fake Vanguard’s action as “an offensive infringement” of its intellectual property.

These guys call themselves “activist comedians.” I get the activist part, but where’s the comedy come in? I suppose the “Vanguardians of the Galaxy” reference could be a little funny in a “dad joke” sort of way, but this is a pretty elaborate setup for the tiny comedy payoff these guys deliver.  I’ll leave it up to you to decide what kind of impact the activist side of the house has made with these pranks, but from a comedic perspective. . .  well, I’lI take Letterkenny over the Yes Men every time.

John Jenkins