ANA 2008

Bank of America CMO Highlights Progress Amid Crisis

Finucane Delivers Remarkably Upbeat Speech to ANA

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ORLANDO, Fla. ( -- Of all those who spoke on "growth" at the Association of National Advertisers' annual conference here today, none had a harder job arguably than Anne Finucane, chief marketing officer of Bank of America -- the iconically named bank that is one of the institutions at the heart of the financial crisis.
Anne Finucane
Anne Finucane Credit: Art Beaulieu

True, she made it a bit easier by delivering a prerecorded message, as she was staying back home in San Francisco to help sort out the mess. But, as she pointed out, Bank of America lends to half the homes in the U.S.

She didn't dwell on the inconvenient truth that about one in 10 mortgages is in default. And, as an ongoing testament to extreme volatility in financial markets, the Dow Jones Industrial Average shed more than 200 points, erasing most of its gain for the day at that point, as she and other Bank of America executives addressed the conference.

Focusing on solutions
Yet she delivered a surprisingly upbeat talk filled with concrete strategies for how Bank of America is managing its way through the crisis by employing a combination of old and new approaches for its commercial bank.

Of course, Bank of America did post a $1.1 billion profit last quarter, she said. And it happens to be strong enough to be a buyer, having acquired troubled mortgage originator Countrywide Financial Corp. in January.

But the differences in how Bank of America handled the marketing behind that deal compared to its campaign about nine months earlier for its then-healthy U.S. Trust operation showed a certain dexterity in reacting to crisis.

For U.S. Trust, Bank of America turned to a strategy of upbeat TV vignettes featuring Kiefer Sutherland voice-overs talking about ways in which a new generation of the super-rich prefer to spend their money -- on everything from VW Microbuses to starting charter schools.

Doing without ads
For Countrywide, Ms. Finucane said, Bank of America opted for no advertising at all.

"Countrywide is about our long-term growth opportunities," she said. "It's also a perfect example of how we see the more expansive role [of marketing], including public policy, philanthropy and community outreach arenas that can help us demonstrate we're the bank of opportunity."

With Countrywide, the focus post-acquisition was on meeting with community development groups, nonprofits and housing experts and used testimony before the Federal Reserve Board in California and Illinois to demonstrate what she said is a positive role the bank is playing in the mortgage mess.

"In the months to come, we'll certainly be advertising heavily," she said, but the bank would also be taking action to ease the crisis. The company's public policy and community outreach services, she said, include helping more than 400,000 people avoid foreclosure and making loan modifications on $40 billion worth of its mortgage portfolio.

"That's taking action as the bank of opportunity," she said, "not just talking about."

Budget realities may intrude
Of course, under the circumstances, it may be tough for Bank of America to keep spending as much on advertising. Anne Saunders, who handles marketing for Bank of America commercial banking, didn't get into specifics on how the bank would change its ad spending in the next year, but said: "We aren't done planning '09 yet. Obviously the events of the last few weeks will have an impact on our plans. We still want to understand what's happening. As our industry changes, the competitive set we have now is completely different than it was a month ago."

Broadly, however, marketers attending seem to be showing resilience in the face of the downturn. A flash poll after the talk showed 39% of marketers planned to increase '09 spending, higher than the 33% who plan to cut it and the 28% who expect no change. When asked how they expect '09 spending to compare to '08, 26% of attendees said they would increase spending by more than 10%, 28% said spending would be stable, and 19% said they would decrease spending by more than 10%.
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