The Money Store this week plans to start testing radio commercials in six markets. The gambit illustrates the growing importance of advertising as the revenue-hungry financial industry-from finance companies to credit card providers to banks-pursues the lucrative small-business category.
"Most everyone has something going on in the area of small business," said Charles Wendel, president of Financial Institutions Consulting.
The Money Store cranked out $636 million in government-guaranteed business loans in 1996. But its decision to try radio advertising was spurred by increased competition for small-business customers and a desire to reach a larger audience.
"We want to make sure we're not leaving any opportunities to do business on the table by restricting advertising to print," said Trevor Cartwright, VP-originations at the Money Store.
The Money Store, which handles advertising in-house, runs print ads in about 40 metropolitan markets. The radio spots will run in Atlanta; Boston; Honolulu; Houston; Portland, Ore.; and St. Louis.
The Money Store spent $43.9 million in measured media last year for its consumer-oriented mortgage operations, according to Competitive Media Reporting. Figures for small-business efforts were unavailable.
Visa USA is also stepping up ad efforts aimed at small business. The credit card giant broke its first small-business network TV spot July 8 during Major League Baseball's All-Star Game; the spot is now running in 10 regional markets.
Visa plans to start running a new network spot this week. Both ads from BBDO Worldwide, New York, are part of the "It's everywhere you want to be" campaign.
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Visa previously had advertised its 3-year-old small-business credit card only in print. The company decided to move into TV to raise awareness of the card and challenge American Express Co.'s dominance of the niche.
There are 2.1 million small businesses with annual revenues of between $500,000 and $10 million, according to research company Payment Systems. Forty percent of those companies have corporate cards, with 49% using AmEx, 31% Visa, 25% MasterCard and 2% Discover. Visa hopes ads will raise awareness and dispel perceptions that it offers only consumer products, said Liz Silver, VP-advertising.
Last year, Visa spent $216.6 million on advertising, $1 million of which was put behind the business card, according to CMR.
Ms. Silver predicted spending for the product will pick up next year.
AmEx has been running TV spots aimed at small businesses since 1992 and now is running two. One is a brand awareness commercial by Ogilvy & Mather; the other is a direct-response spot by Wunderman Cato Johnson.
Banks have gotten into the act as well. Bank of America, a longtime small-business advertiser, has started running niche radio spots produced by its new agency, Deutsch.