THE BLOG
12/06/2011 04:34 pm ET | Updated Feb 05, 2012

How UBS Hijacked an Aviation Legend

Certain people in the annals of history are so worthy of universal respect that cheating them of their place in time (and sullying their enduring significance) is a great disservice to us all.

Moreover, as humankind progresses more deeply into our 21st century, most would consider the primitive misogynist mindset to be on the fast-track toward extinction. Surprisingly, neither sentiment appears to prevail at disgraced mega-bank UBS.

UBS's unique culture of tolerating odd behavior and bad decisions by its bankers extends beyond the continuing $2.3 billion trading loss scandal. Early signs of that problem-prone bank's inclination toward abysmal risk management, sloppy research, false claims , ethical double-speak and reputational hara-kiri are evident in its recent global advertising effort.

In pursuing a brand comeback strategy UBS dropped a disturbing clanger with the Amelia Earhart segment of its "We Will Not Rest" ad campaign (created by mega-agency Publicis). That ad's print version is false and misleading, and reveals a UBS orientation in stark contrast to its claims.

UBS's full-page treatments in the , the Financial Times and the Economist prominently present a photograph of Ms. Earhart standing near her silver twin-engined Electra 10E airplane on a massive concrete runway, under the heading "... Newfoundland, 1932."

The first glaring error UBS committed is that Ms. Earhart could not have posed with that Electra in 1932 since she acquired it in 1936 . UBS's second error is that her Electra never graced Newfoundland's skies, or the gravel airstrip she used at Harbour Grace which is still bounded on both sides by water. The photo in UBS's ad was taken in late July 1936 at Burbank Airport by Albert Bresnik, of Hollywood fame, who had been Ms. Earhart's personal photographer since 1932.

In terms of authenticity, the airplane Ms. Earhart actually flew from Newfoundland in May 1932 was a red single-engined Vega 5B. She soloed her Vega non-stop from there into aviation history by landing, 14 hours and 56 minutes later, on a muddy cow pasture near Derry, Ireland. Afterward her Vega was triumphantly exhibited inside Selfridges' flagship department store in London. Although that plane now resides at the National Air & Space Museum in Washington, D.C., you can see a replica in the hilarious movie Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian, in which Amy Adams stars as Amelia Earhart. Sadly, in July 1937 the latter aviator disappeared while flying across the Pacific Ocean with the Electra pictured in UBS's ad.

It is an enduring mystery how the resource-rich, reputation-challenged and goodwill-needy UBS could so badly fumble the most elemental form of research concerning a globally revered icon. Informed women worldwide, whether high net worth individuals or aspiring up-and-comers, should therefore question UBS's purported prowess (per the bank's Earhart-related print ad) in providing them with "... accurate Wealth Management Research ..."

UBS's hijacking of aviation history also lifts the lid on the bank's rank hypocrisy concerning women's roles and value in society, commerce and sport. Presumably UBS "research" proves females of all ages become excited by Formula One's spreadsheet sterility, mind-numbing complexity, competitor overpopulation, infinite repeatability and yawning predictability. And yet, exactly how many female F1 drivers competed in a Grand Prix over the past two decades? Why is there still not an all-women's race on any circuit?

Aspiring or monied women may link those uncomfortable realities with the declarations by F1's Supremo (most recently in 2005) that "... women should be dressed in white like all the other domestic appliances." Consider deeply that problematic UBS association, plus the bank's recent shanghaiing of Amelia Earhart (who, ironically, was fond of driving fast cars), and the following excerpts from one of her 1935 speeches. Ms. Earhart's subject was how advances in science and technology were freeing women from servitude as mere household appliances:

"Not only has applied science decreased the toil in the home, but it has provided undreamed of economic opportunities for women. Today, millions of them are earning their living under conditions made possible only through a basically altered industrial system. Probably no scientific development is more startling than the effect of this new and growing economic independence upon women themselves. When the history of our times is written, it must record as supremely significant the physical, psychic and social changes women have undergone in these exciting decades."

"Aviation, this young modern giant, exemplified the possible relationship of women and the creations of science. Although women as yet have not taken full advantage of its use and benefits, air travel is available to them as to men. As so often happens in introducing the new or changing the old, public acceptance depends peculiarly upon women's friendly attitude."

"In aviation, they are arbiters of whether or not their families shall fly, and as such, are a potent influence."

No man today can argue with a straight face that enlightened women cannot decide how to fly, what to drive or where to bank -- especially in their potent capacities as family CPOs and CFOs. No doubt UBS has conjured "research" to prove the bank's relatively new five-year global partnership with F1 is worth the reported $40 million annual rights fee -- current and prospective female clients be damned.

UBS's flawed and presumptive ad depicting Ms. Earhart, plus its lavish support of Formula One's odd alchemy, flies in the face of the bank's claimed competence in enabling the prototypical aspiring woman with investable assets (quoting that same UBS ad) to "... recover some of her confidence." Discerning high net worth individuals may therefore conclude that as far as stellar research-driven investment opportunities go, there is no Über BS quite like what UBS is spewing.

Only through well-planned, tangible and deeply resonating actions will UBS have any hope of re-establishing credibility and trust in its tarnished brand among the public, shareholders and high net worth clients (especially those crucial female arbiters Amelia Earhart cited).

Salvaging a sunken reputation by courting "... women's friendly attitude ..." requires far more than bogus research, advertising puffery and no rest.