Financial services play patriotic card

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The cover for Time Inc.'s Money November special report is spare, but the headline says it all. "Investing in America: Keep the Faith."

Inside, the section outlines strategies for handling the market volatility unleashed by the Sept. 11 attacks. Financial-services marketers, meanwhile, are getting out their own messages about how to do just that. Already hit by millions in losses and faced with the possibility of worse to come as investors sell out, marketers are promoting investments as a contribution to the rebuilding effort.

Financial advertisers are trying to keep investors "Bullish on America," in the words of the newest campaign from Merrill Lynch & Co.

After weeks of running condolence ads, Merrill Lynch took out eight-page ads in The Wall Street Journal, tagged "Bullish on America," encouraging investors to "Act with conviction ... Act with discipline ... Act with knowledge." A TV execution-part of the $25 million "Be Bullish" campaign from WPP Group's J. Walter Thompson, New York, which broke this summer-also addressed volatility and used the "Bullish on America" tag.

Fidelity Investments drafted star fund manager Peter Lynch to calm mutual fund investors in TV spots from Havas Advertising's Arnold Worldwide, Boston. The New York Stock Exchange weighed in with its own TV spot, tagged "Let Freedom Ring," from Omnicom Group's BBDO Worldwide, New York, which features New York police and fire personnel ringing the opening bell, as they've done several times since the market resumed trading Sept. 17.

Even smaller companies added their two cents-or two million, as it were. Lord Abbett ran full-page ads for its investment funds mimicking an analyst report, which issued a "Strong Buy" recommendation for America. "In the business of leading the free world. ... Launching new product lines every day. Asset: Trillions of dollars. Greatest asset: The spirit of its people," reads the ad.

"In the early part of the year, advertising was addressing the issue of market volatility anyway. ... Following the events of 9/11, it became clear the market would remain quite volatile and investors had to think long-term," said Ben Thompson, director of client services at Masius, New York. The corporate advertising unit of Omnicom's D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, New York, created the "America" ad as part of a larger campaign for the investment manager, which emphasized its 65-year track record managing money.

Statistics from the Investment Company Institute, the trade group of mutual fund companies, show mutual fund assets had already dropped before the attacks, to $6.74 trillion in August from $6.97 trillion in December 2000.

But calming the qualms of shaky investors took on an added urgency after the shock of Sept. 11 wore off. A recent poll of European investment managers by Merrill Lynch found professionals were conflicted about the near-term strength of both the U.S. and European markets and are holding record-high levels of cash in their portfolios.

Credit Suisse First Boston analyst Joan Solotar summed up the dire situation in a recent report previewing asset managers' third-quarter earnings reports. She rated money-market funds as the most stable investment vehicles, retirement accounts as "the most sticky" in terms of retaining assets and mutual funds the most vulnerable.

"The recent events have essentially conspired to reduce assets from both valuation reductions as well as no new money coming in, other than into less-profitable cash products," she wrote. That is bad news for most investment companies, which earn fees based on a percentage of assets under management, not transaction fees.

While financial services companies are hardly a charity case, their plight has sparked a public service announcement effort. A new group called Invest in US has launched a PSA campaign to encourage investors to keep the faith. The group, started by executives at Omnicom's Doremus Advertising, New York, has unveiled an outdoor campaign in New York and prepared PSAs to "Bring back the Bull."

The messages range from a request to "Don't keep the Dow at half-mast" to a picture of Osama bin Laden with the words "He wants you to sell."

The group, led by Doremus Creative Director Danny Gregory, includes production companies, illustrators and other agency vendors who donated their work to produce seven print executions and several TV and radio spots. The print executions have already appeared in The Wall Street Journal, and CNN and CNBC have requested the TV spots, said Lisa Serratore, creative manager at Doremus.

While the campaign has received good support-a companion Web site ( got 12,000 hits on its first week-no one has yet requested the bin Laden execution.

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