That's Reassuring: As the Banks Fall, Ads Mount Up

Financial Institutions Seek to Calm Consumers With Full-Page Ads, Revamped Websites and E-mail Notices

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YORK, Pa. (AdAge.com) -- As iconic banking institutions continued to fall -- the most recent being Washington Mutual, driven into the arms of JPMorgan Chase -- financial service advertisers went into overdrive trying to calm consumers.

Marketers spanning the banking, investment and insurance industries last week snapped up full-page ads in stalwart dailies and business pubs, revamped their web pages and sent e-mails as they scrambled to distance themselves from their battered brethren. Some of those included Charles Schwab, Fidelity Investments, CME Group, Prudential, T. Rowe Price and TIAA-Cref.

CME Group ad
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You can trust us
Banks' reassuring taglines:

CME GROUP: "Rise above the risk" (above)

PRUDENTIAL: "What 133 years of managing risk tells us about today"

FIDELITY INVESTMENTS: "Commitment from a trusted service provider"

TIAA CREF: "Since when did survival become the bar?"
While the underlying messages stressed reliability and trustworthiness, each company took its own approach. Schwab, for instance, crafted a full page "Open Letter to America's Investors" written by founder Charles Schwab. The letter, which ran in The Wall Street Journal for several days, not only assured clients about the stability of Schwab, but also suggested they not give up on investing, and rather "reassess" their portfolios at this time.

"We believe it's important to reach out to our clients -- and the general public -- in times of market uncertainty," said a Schwab spokesman in an e-mail statement. "The recent open letter from Charles Schwab that appeared in several news outlets, as well as new advertisements and postings on our website, are just a few of the ways we are trying to provide additional insight and help for anyone who is interested."

Survival
Boston-based agency Modernista created a series of print ads for TIAA-Cref, which began appearing in The Wall Street Journal and local newspapers on Sept. 19, highlighting the company's good standing with rating agencies such as Standard & Poor's and Moody's. The ads are headlined with an almost sarcastic, "Since when did survival become the bar?"

Bermuda-based insurer ACE Ltd., which is led by ousted AIG chief Maurice R. "Hank" Greenberg's son Evan, also tweaked its messaging in the wake of the financial market turmoil, taking out ads in mainstream newspapers and business publications that emphasized the importance of "balance-sheet strength." ACE noted that "In an increasingly risky world, choosing the right insurance company is more important than ever."

Some firms took a more aggressive stance. C.V. Starr & Co. -- an investment company run by the senior Mr. Greenberg -- touted its independent status. "In today's financial environment, it's more important than ever to choose independence and financial stability," the ads read, beneath large type that says "Lone Starr."

Even the down-and-out firms attempted to reach out to clients with appreciative and or rebranding messages. British banking giant Barclays wasted no time adorning its brand on Lehman Bros. as it swooped to the rescue last week, decorating the latter's Times Square headquarters in Manhattan with flashing billboard signs to reflect the new ownership.

'Strength' to keep slogan?
In the wake of AIG's meltdown, the insurance company also took out a full page "Thank You" ad in Advertising Age sibling Business Insurance. "The support our customers and brokers have shown us this last week has been overwhelming," it said. "We Thank You." AIG's ironic "Strength to Be There" tagline has disappeared from its website, but whether the tag's been dumped for good is still under consideration, executives familiar with the matter said.

Many of the financial marketers tweaked or changed their website home pages, adding reassuring messages and answers to frequently asked questions specific to what's happened on Wall Street. Dow Jones' MarketWatch sent out e-mail blasts to sibling WSJ subscribers offering tips and tools (with free 30-day trial) to help people navigate the choppy financial waters.
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