Fidelity Urges Media to Nix Ads That Link It to Darfur

Slammed for Investing in Sudanese Oil Partner

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Fidelity Investments is exercising its marketing muscle these days -- just not the way the Save Darfur Coalition would like.

Save Darfur Coalition: The controversial ad has run in The Washington Post and USA Today; CNN has held back.
Click to see full ad


The financial-services company has pressured CNN and Newsweek to hold off running coalition ads critical of Fidelity's investment in PetroChina, a company whose parent, China National Petroleum, is one of Sudan's largest oil-industry partners.

Both the 30-second spot and the print ad, from GMMB, Washington, are derived from correspondence between coalition partner Fidelity Out Of Sudan and the mutual-fund giant regarding the withdrawal of its investments in PetroChina. According to the ads, when Fidelity was informed that, by investing in PetroChina, it was effectively supporting genocide in Sudan, it responded: "Fidelity portfolio managers make their investment decisions based on business and financial considerations."

One-sided dialogue
Allyn Brooks-LaSure, director-media relations, Save Darfur Coalition, said the organization has been trying to work with Fidelity privately. "We have certainly tried to make ourselves available to some type of dialogue with Fidelity specifically regarding the divestment issue. Unfortunately, the communication has been one-sided, and if there's been any communication at all, it's been through the press."

The coalition has targeted Fidelity because -- according to the company's fourth-quarter 2006 Securities and Exchange filing -- its various investments in PetroChina Co. of Beijing total $1.3 billion in U.S. equity markets.

In an e-mail to Advertising Age, Fidelity spokesman Vin Loporchio said: "The holdings information that people have been citing is more than four months old (12/31/06). Therefore, it would not be possible for any third parties to know what our current holdings actually are." Furthermore, he stressed that Fidelity is responsible to its investors, who "rightly expect that these funds will be managed in a way that seeks to achieve each fund's investment objectives as well as comply with all governing laws."

'Misleading'
Mr. Loporchio also pointed out that Fidelity offers a number of options for "investors wishing to avoid companies in certain industries or parts of the world."

"We believe this ad is misleading," he said, "and we do not believe that any media outlets should run the ad. It is a false representation of the situation and portrays Fidelity wrongly and unfairly. We simply communicated our views to these media outlets because they received this misleading advertisement."

He did not state which media outlets specifically, but the ad has run in The Washington Post and USA Today, according to the Save Darfur Coalition. Calls to Newsweek to see if it would hold the ad were not returned, but The Boston Globe reported the publication has not run it.

Fidelity has implied that forthcoming investment information will prove the ad inaccurate, which CNN stated as its reason for holding the commercial, which was initially to start airing May 1.

Holding off
Turner Broadcasting, CNN's parent, released this statement: "CNN has decided to postpone running the ad for two weeks. In recent days Fidelity has said the information relied upon to make the ad may now be dated. We understand Fidelity will be issuing new investment information to the public in mid-May that could materially impact the assumptions underlying the ad. CNN thinks the responsible thing to do is to wait to have an opportunity to evaluate this updated information before running the ad. If, after the report is published, it shows no material change, CNN will air the commercial."

A spokesperson for Turner declined to comment further.

Clearly, when it comes to ad clout, Fidelity has the upper hand. The Save Darfur Coalition spent $18.9 million on advertising last year, according to TNS Media Intelligence, compared with Fidelity's $230 million. However, the flap over the media outlets holding on to the coalition's ad has generated plenty of publicity for its cause.

The coalition has also homed in on Berkshire Hathaway Corp. -- another top investor in PetroChina -- without incident. During a stockholders' meeting last week in Nebraska, the coalition placed Berkshire-targeted ads on billboards in Omaha as well as in the Omaha World Herald and the regional USA Today.

Berkshire dismisses divestment
During the annual meeting, shareholders stated their cases for withdrawing their $3.3 million investment in PetroChina, but the proposal was defeated.

Mr. Brooks-LaSure said he is not disappointed by the result because he feels the coalition's dialogue with Berkshire Hathaway is continuing. However, he said, "Fidelity has publicly confirmed that they are willing and able to stop us from spreading our message, but they haven't shown a public willingness or ability to divest their PetroChina holdings."

The ultimate goal of the campaign is "to convince Fidelity to lead the way in declaring that investing in companies that are linked to the genocide in Darfur isn't worth it, regardless of the profit," Mr. Brooks-LaSure said.
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