“Eco-doom carnival” lampoons Vanguard on home turf

Community members play nautical themed carnival games that highlight Vanguard's climate problem at a community festival in Philadelipha. They are standing under a large banner that reads "Vanguard is sinking your future."

Satirical games skewer investment giant’s complicity in climate destruction

On first glance, the Vanguard S.O.S. festival pop-up could pass for a corporate PR stunt. But when passersby notice that the free games are climate-chaos themed, the point becomes clear: instead of promoting the second-largest asset manager in the world, this interactive performance is criticizing their role in climate catastrophe. A project of trickster activists the Yes Men, the brand-jamming action popped up at public events in Philadelphia all summer long—right in the Malvern-based company’s backyard.

Visitors are greeted by costumed crew mates dispensing prizes and hard truths about Vanguard’s fossil fuel exposure. “Spin the wheel to avert climate doom!” instructs Philly resident and “first mate” Linnea Bond, as a toddler takes hold of a ship’s wheel mounted to a backdrop of a stormy seascape. “You could win big, even though we all lose until Vanguard course-corrects its $300 billion invested in fossil fuels.” When the spoke misses the sliver of hope labeled “Net Zero” and lands in the ocean of melting icebergs, Bond tells gathered locals how the Malvern-based asset manager is failing on climate.

Thousands of visitors played satirical spins on classic games, like the “Where Does Your Money Go” coin toss, attempting to hit a tiny green fund cup and avoid the oil, gas, and coal buckets that surround it (the not-so-subtle metaphor represents the ratio of fossils-to-green funds in Vanguard offerings). Guests try their luck in the “bay of stranded assets,” “pitch the planet” for a bittersweet three-pointer, and toss a life ring over a hand submerged in oil—evoking how Vanguard could use its massive influence to buoy the planet rather than destroy it.

Talking about climate doom and financial arcana can make people shut down, but interactive games offer an engaging way to educate about the harm Vanguard is doing and how customers, employees, and concerned Philadelphians can pressure them to change. The interactive booth has been a fun and persistent way to bring the message to many different communities in Vanguard’s backyard.

“People of all ages—including current and potential customers—leave with a clear association between Vanguard and our precarious future,” said Keil Troisi of the Yes Men. “It can feel bleak, as we fight to make behemoths change course, but in the meantime we can use tactical fun and games to buoy our collective ship.”