Recovery Watch: Financial ads show first-quarter uptick

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Conventional wisdom says financial companies will lead an advertising recovery, and early indicators are they have indeed stepped up activity in the first quarter with new campaigns and increased spending.

A recent analysis of spot TV sales by UBS Warburg found financial services advertising sales up 32% in the first quarter, the fastest growth rate among the top ten TV ad categories. In February and March, new campaigns began from online brokers (Ameritrade Corp., E-Trade Financial, TD Waterhouse), credit cards (American Express Co.), insurers (Amica Insurance), investment managers (Morgan Stanley, Putnam Investments) and even stock markets such as the New York Stock Exchange and trading system Island ECN.

With Wall Street economists now pegging the Dow Jones Industrial Average to reach 12,300-12,400 this year, marketers seem to be out in force for the recovery. But most claim they are simply sticking to their business plans, although messages had to be recast for the recessionary, post-Enron, post-Sept. 11 consumer. The new NYSE spots return to the campaign's original tagline, "The world puts its stock in us," after a series of post-Sept. 11 spots tagged "Let freedom ring" declaimed the market's reopening after the attacks.

"I think people [in financial services] are still struggling for a voice. People know you still need to be out there," said Fred Langbecker, chief strategy officer at MDC Communications' Margeotes Fertitta & Partners, New York. "Consumers want a reminder of the overall stability of companies."


"It's clear this has been a tough couple of years. ... There are a lot of investors out there who've never experienced a market like this," said Kathy Sharpless, managing director of communications, Putnam. The company had just launched a campaign last September, focused on services such as retirement investment and college funds, which it pulled back and recast for post 9/11. The new campaign from Margeotes acknowledges customers are tentative and focuses on Putnam's experience in volatile markets, Ms. Sharpless said. The print ads, which broke March 22, feature "The Market" portrayed as an old man, a child or a young boy, with comments such as "We've been in a relationship with it for 65 years."

Many retail investment customers feel they can't quite trust anyone with their money in this economy, said Steve Crane, president-creative officer of Cossette Post, New York, which handles campaigns for TD Waterhouse and Amica Insurance. As a result, brokers' ads have taken a serious tone, he said.

TD Waterhouse switched from a celebrity-oriented campaign to more serious spots featuring former "Law & Order" actor Steven Hill as spokesman. In one, he displays TD Waterhouse's site as a source of accurate information, then adds "A crystal ball, it isn't. ...If you want a fortune teller, go to a circus."

Indeed, financial services advertising has adopted a new mantra: "Money isn't funny," Mr. Crane said.

But Cosette Post did try a bit of humor in its Amica campaign, an effort featuring actor John Lithgow introducing "a place called Amica" where every transaction comes out right.

American Express, meanwhile, has launched a campaign tagged "Make life rewarding," from WPP Group's Ogilvy & Mather, New York, which brought back creative director Gordon Bowen, who created its succesful "Portraits" campaign in 1987. (To view the ads, go to QwikFIND aan30z.)

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