Despite Wall Street Worries, Online Brokers TD Ameritrade, E-Trade Go Prospecting

Latest Campaigns Pitch Stunned Investors to Rethink Their Portfolios

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NEW YORK ( -- In the wake of another disastrous week on Wall Street, which saw the market close at its lowest point in five years, online brokers from TD Ameritrade to E-Trade are launching new campaigns to draw in new or lapsed consumers.
TD Ameritrade ad

An TD Ameritrade newspaper ad, called 'Second Opinion,' will push people to get a second opinion on their investing.

With the market so unstable and the media providing an abundance of coverage on people who are losing money, their houses and everything else, it might seem like an odd time for a company to be prospecting for clients. But Robert Haverback, VP-brand management advertising and e-marketing at TD Ameritrade, said that's far from true, and that there is opportunity in the current market meltdown.

"It is our belief that to go dark is the worst thing you could do," Mr. Haverback said. "So we have tried to reach out in many different forms to current clients and to prospects, to talk about what the volatility of the market means."

A trusted face
The company's latest effort is a seven-figure outreach and prospecting campaign that will include TV, print and direct mail. The spot will feature the company's longtime spokesman, actor Sam Waterston, "who we believe does bring some trust to our brand, especially during times like this," Mr. Haverback said. The company will run print ads in a national newspaper along with local newspapers, though Mr. Haverback did not want to divulge the names of specific publications as agreements were still being finalized.

The direct-mail campaign, which will get under way next month and total over a million pieces, will target current customers of the online trading and investment site. TD Ameritrade's agency lineup includes Ogilvy & Mather for creative; MediaVest for media; [email protected] for online media; and Bailey Lauerman for direct mail.

The TV spot is intended to encourage current customers and prospects who may have not looked at their investments for several years to set up an appointment and call TD Ameritrade. "And to get people sitting on the sidelines who don't know what to do to reach out to us and let us help them and provide guidance," Mr. Haverback added.

The newspaper ad, called "Second Opinion," will push people to get a second opinion on their investing. "We are seeing a lot of reappraisal in the category," he said. "The financial-services industry tends to have the greatest amount of inertia, so if you have your account in one place with a broker and you're not particularly satisfied, the cost and the time for you to switch to some other provider is high. But during these times of crisis, people probably drop the inertia level a little bit and do consider whether they have their money in the right place and if they are getting the right advice.

"It's a great time to do [prospecting] and it's working very well," he said. "We're seeing movement from the full-commission brokerage firms to us, and we're seeing it at a higher rate than before. Certainly when there are dislocations in the market, there are opportunities, and we are definitely seizing on that opportunity right now. People need guidance and they are seeking us out, and a lot of the advertising work we have done over the years has really made us a place for people to turn in this time of crisis."

Providing direction
Stuart Rubinstein, VP marketing program development at TD Ameritrade, said the direct mailer is all about providing a sense of direction when the market doesn't seem to have one. "It's about pausing to get your bearings by getting a free investment checkup in a volatile market," Mr. Rubinstein said.

E-Trade, another do-it-yourself online stock trading company, has also launched a number of ads. In the past few weeks it introduced two print ads titled "Stress Relief" and "Survival Kit." And in the coming weeks it will break a third one called "If It's Broke, Fix It."

The ad serves as a call-to-action for prospects to consider E-Trade if they are unsatisfied with their current service. A spokesperson for the company said business remains strong despite the heightened sense of urgency among investors. "In the first couple of weeks of October, our executives have seen that individual investors are still engaged in this market," the spokesperson said. "Our daily average revenue trades remain at a high level, and we continue to see new accounts come in at a higher-than-normal pace."

The company is also doing a lot of outreach to current clients via the web and e-mail. "Our relationship managers and our advisers are proactively outreaching to our clients to make them aware of the risk-management tools that we have," the spokesperson said. "We're using our executive team to ensure that our customers know where our executives believe the market is headed and communicating at least on a quarterly basis if not more frequently how this impacts them as individuals and how it impacts E-Trade as a corporation."

The company, which works with Grey on creative, is still currently running its popular talking baby spots featuring the baby who spits up on himself while buying and selling stocks.

Scottrade considers new tack
Kelly Doria, director-public relations at Scottrade, said the company hasn't launched any new marketing efforts as a result of the market's historic downslide but a potential campaign has been discussed.

"It is something that we certainly talked about," Ms. Doria said. "We have taken a look at the needs of our customers and whether or not [a campaign] is something that makes sense to do at this point. And so far, we have chosen to communicate with them through the message on our website and the contact they have with us through our brokers and branch managers across the country."

She added: "Our customers know we don't give advice, and that's why they are with a discount broker. They have chosen and want to make their own decisions and that's true in all times, whether the economy is up or down. They are looking for other sources to help guide their decisions."

Ms. Doria said the company does provide the tools and information that customers need to help decipher what's going on with the market, "but we're not telling them what to do." The company did however reach out to its customers proactively to reassure them of the stability and security of Scottrade and their accounts. It posted a link to the message on, within its trading website and online community.

Scottrade does not have an agency of record. Its TV spots were done by Gearon Hoffman, Boston, but the company also works with a number of creative agencies on a project basis in St. Louis.

No time for wild claims
Dennis Kneale, tech and media editor at CNBC, said the online trading companies really overstated their case in 2000 before the last bubble. "Some of them literally had ads with guys blowing money out of their backside and they set up a ridiculously unrealistic impression."

This time around, he suggests using less get-rich-quick themes and more building-for-the-future-type messaging, but said that companies don't have to ignore the fact that money can be made in a bear market. "You can preach boldness, but not recklessness," he said.
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