Like Dow, Fidelity's ads are good and bad

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Advertiser: Fidelity Investments
Agency: Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopulos, Boston
Ad Review rating: Two and a half stars

In case you hadn't noticed, amid the hubbub in the Oral Office, the Dow Jones industrial average was down 74,000 points last week in active trading.

Or up. We're not sure, because the market has gone haywire.

So the world's largest mutual fund company is on the air with spots reminding America not to panic, and--while not panicking--where to stash the cash. The star: Peter Lynch.

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Lynch, former manager of Fidelity Investments' gargantuan Magellan fund, is the Michael Jordan of stock pickers. His financial exploits, combined with his head of Andy Warholish white hair, have made him the cover boy of the mutual fund industry. So now, somewhat belatedly, with world markets in disarray, Fidelity is trying to tap Lynch's star value.

Which it does quite well in two commercials.

And which it pretty much fails to do in five others. This campaign is both terrible and very good.

"People ask me, what's the market gonna do two years from now, five years from now?" Lynch says in the best of the spots. "I say, `I really don't know, I really don't know.'"

He is very conversational, looking off-camera at the "interviewer" and speaking the way people speak--poor enunciation, awkward syntax and all.

"Companies are working very hard out there to invent new products, to improve the quality of their service. I believe we make more money 10 years from now and 20 years from now. When people really get worried, they oughta go to a playground and look at 6-year-olds. They don't know what's happening to the money supply, they don't know what's happening with interest rates. So you really shouldn't worry about what happens this week or tomorrow or the day after. The world'll be fine."

Just like that he dismisses potential global depression as a transitory blip. And yet it is reassuring, because, in the long run, he's probably right. This folksy wisdom gives strength to another spot about Fidelity research.

"Our fund managers and our analysts," Lynch says, "they want to go visit a company in London or Czechoslovakia or whatever they want to go to, they go there. That's their job."

Well, no. Not exactly. There is no Czechoslovakia. Hasn't been for about seven years. So we hope the fund managers aren't out investing in, say, Eastern Airlines. But you take his point: Fidelity spares no effort or expense to vet the companies it considers investing in.

"It's a lot of work," he says, "but the person who turns over the most rocks wins the game."

Actually, the person who blindly invests in the S&P 500 wins the game. The rock-turners, as a group, come in second. But Lynch's logic and demeanor are nonetheless impressive.

Not so impressive are two spots featuring Fidelity's employees, who come off as disingenuous blowhards. ("When you win," gushes one, "you win for Fidelity's thousands and thousands of shareholders. That's the truly rewarding part.") Like, gag me with a convertible debenture.

Then there are the three spots featuring Lynch playing straight man for actress Lily Tomlin, who, in various characters, dramatizes several investing "don'ts." Alas, the spots are badly written, Tomlin isn't funny and Lynch is as wooden and awkward in them as he is relaxed in the others.

Which just reminds us that Ferdinand Magellan, namesake of the fund that made Peter Lynch king, circumnavigated the globe. Then, in Asia, he was wantonly slaughtered.

Copyright September 1998, Crain Communications Inc.

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