Changing fortunes

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E-trade financial's new tagline could stand for the industry as a whole: "Times have changed, so have we."

They have, indeed. Sept. 11 marked a turning point where financial-services consumers accepted the recession as a reality-a fact made official by economists in November-and ran for cover. It made a tough job tougher for financial-services advertisers, who were already cutting back on ad spending to control costs during the recession.

Corporate advertisers in general are being cautious, said Lou Rubin, chief marketing officer of Omnicom Group's Doremus Advertising, New York, a corporate and financial-advertising specialist shop, which is testing new work and retesting old messages to make sure they're still current.

"We are making every dollar count" for clients, he said. Since most ad budgets were cut for 2002, clients are using integrated efforts such as relationship marketing and online, sports marketing and public relations, Mr. Rubin explained.

NEW SERVICES, SAME CLIENTS

Most financial advertisers have continued to focus on gaining business by selling new services to existing clients. E-Trade is not alone. Most brokerages have launched new advertising, although with more targeted media, bypassing network TV for alternatives such as MSNBC. Discount brokers including Charles Schwab & Co., Ameritrade and TD Waterhouse have all launched campaigns since last fall, in spite of an increasingly weak performance for the industry since the dot-com bust of 2000.

Investor optimism bounced back after the market's disastrous week Sept. 17, but the Enron Corp. scandal took some steam out of the recovery. According to a February Gallup Organization poll, 50% of investors said they were optimistic about the stock market, down from 60% in January, and their expectations for a return on their investments had shrunk to 9.5% from about 10.2%.

"We've had a few double whammies lately," said Jack Calhoun, Schwab's senior VP-advertising and brand management. But Mr. Calhoun is among financial clients who say this is no time to go dark. Customers will seek advice and will gravitate to the brands they know during uncertain times, the optimists believe.

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