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Animated characters by The New Yorker cartoonist Lou Myers try to put a friendlier face on Nomura Securities. JAPAN'S TOP BROKER LOOKS TO MCCANN FOR IMAGE ADS

Published on .

TOKYO-In an unprecedented move, Japan's scandal-plagued Nomura Securities Co. brokerage titan has reached outside its own country's advertising ranks to hire McCann-Erickson Worldwide for an all-important print and TV face-saving campaign.

The centerpiece of the $21.6 million effort, dramatically different from that of any other major securities company, is a TV spot using animated characters from New Yorker cartoonist Lou Myers. The commercial broke earlier this month and is aimed at regaining consumer confidence lost during the 1990 scandal involving alleged links to organized crime and a resulting six-week trading suspension.

Now, the top brokerage hopes to put on a warmer, friendlier face.

This is believed to be the first time a Japanese company that is No. 1 in its industry has named a foreign agency for such an important assignment.

In the 15- and 30-second versions, a Nomura representative and potential customer are seen riding a contraption resembling a bicycle with one common wheel and a propeller above it.

Question marks appear above the woman's head as she speaks; when the male sales rep answers, they smile and rise slowly from the ground until their odd machine lifts them off-screen.

The lyrics "Face to face" play in the background to soft, Simon & Garfunkel-style music as the voice-over says, "The more we get to know your needs, the better we work for you. Always prepared to give the best advice for you."

In magazine and newspaper ads, the same two characters are used.

Nomura is playing down its choice of a foreign agency, noting main agency Dentsu bought the media.

No agency on Nomura's roster has been or will be fired, said Takashi Yakabe, corporate communications general manager. The brokerage's other agencies include Hakuhodo and I&S Corp.

Dentsu, meanwhile, hasn't given up on trying to regain creative on the prestigious corporate account, representing about 75% of Nomura's total budget, and as recently as several weeks ago repitched for the business.

Typically, large Japanese advertisers retain both Dentsu and Hakuhodo to take advantage of their media buying power. Last year, Dentsu bought about 60% of Nomura's media, while Hakuhodo bought 20% and I&S 10%. Other agencies handled the other 10%.

The ads, however, may not cause some Japanese to so easily forget Nomura's past. In the wake of the organized-crime scandals that hit the securities industry in 1990, both Nomura's president and chairman resigned, and by last year, the company's revenue had plummeted to $4.67 billion, half the peak of $9.61 billion in 1990.

The setbacks were prompted in part by revelations linking securities industry executives to members of the yakuza, or organized crime, and the then-common industry practice of compensating favored clients for stock exchange losses.

The organized crime allegations prompted the Ministry of Finance to Nomura to suspend equity dealings for six weeks starting Oct. 15, 1991, in about half its offices. The brokerage paid an undisclosed fine based on the compensation paid to clients as the result of the stock compensation matter.

Furthermore, more than 100 public bodies, including local governments, said they would stop dealing with Nomura.

But the campaign had more than just history to address. In preparing for the ads, Nomura found it had a major new problem: The company's products were considered too risky by many people. This widespread opinion stuck even though Nomura sells a range of low-risk money management funds yielding 2.346% as well as higher yield investment trusts, Mr. Yakabe said. The brokerage's Asian Investment Trust has yielded 30% returns over the past year, he said.

The commercials certainly set Nomura apart from other major securities companies that rely on endorsements by popular TV personalities. No. 2 Daiwa Securities, for example, uses Koji Ishizaka noting "We are your future plan consultant," while No. 3 Nikko Securities calls on Takako Tatumi claiming "Indeed, Nikko is for me."

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