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Closing prices of selected stocks during the recent market slide. MARKETERS March 23 March 31 Procter & Gamble Co. 551/2 531/2 Colgate-Palmolive Co. 605/8 577/8 McDonald's Corp. 605/8 567/8 Coca-Cola Co. 417/8 405/8 Philip Morris Cos. 527/8 505/8 General Motors Corp. 601/2 537/8 IBM Corp. 571/4 545/8 AGENCIES FCB Communications 421/2 421/2 Omnicom Group 491/2 473/4 Interpublic Group of Cos. 305/8 293/4 MEDIA Time Warner 417/8 383/4 CBS 3181/8 3061/2 Tribune Co. 605/8 591/2 Source: Dow Jones Co. A BIG NOISE BUT NOT NEARLY A CRASH BRUISED WALL ST. HOLDS OFF ON REASSURING ADS

By Published on .

Not long after the stock market closed up slightly on what many feared might be Wall Street's Black Thursday, one of Merrill Lynch's chief spin doctors was out the door of the brokerage's towering headquarters in lower Manhattan.

But he wasn't rushing to soothe investors with a "stay the course" message. Instead, he headed for another kind of course-a golf course, for a worry-free, three-day weekend.

"We were ready to go full throttle with ads and offering our top people for calming interviews like we did after the downturn of '87," the Merrill Lynch & Co. executive said. "But this was, as we expected, a pimple on an elephant's behind. Our market timers say there may be more of a correction but nothing major. So we probably won't do any stay-the-course advertising like we did in 1987."

But with the stock market in steady decline-the Dow Jones industrial average has dropped 8.6% from its high of 3,978.36 on Jan. 31-rival brokerage Dreyfus has undertaken a more pro-active response to growing investor jitters.

With newspaper front pages last week blaring headlines like "Holy Dow!" and "Dow dive makes many fear worst," New York-based Dreyfus Service Corp. hastily prepared in-house a newspaper ad, scheduled for Sunday's New York Times, offering a toll-free number with recorded commentary from its chief economist urging people to invest for the long term.

"There's not an enormous amount of unrest," said Dreyfus President Robert Schmidt. "There's concern, but I see more reaction in Wall Street Journal editorials than I do in the investor community."

Vanguard Group in Valley Forge, Pa., plans to shift its mix of product ads toward promoting more liquid, shorter-term investments like money market funds instead of long-term equity funds favored in the stock market's long bull market ride.

Other Wall Street houses, particularly the full-commission companies, responded by asking their brokers to reassure key clients but said corporate image ads used heavily in '87 would now be a waste of money.

"That's why brokers have telephones on their desks," said a spokesman for Prudential Securities. "People are more interested in hearing particulars about their own specific investments than they are in generalities about the marketplace."

But analysts said the recent influx of first-time investors, spurred by low interest rates on certificates of deposit, has fueled nervousness about less stable investments. Increasingly complex financial markets make standard responses impossible.

"Any time you try to tell them about a specific market condition, you may imply a direction or advice," said a spokesman for discounter Charles Schwab & Co., San Francisco. "We can't tell them this is bad and calm them down. Some people look at this as a great opportunity to make money."

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