To American Century Investments of Kansas City, Mo., March 15 was launch date.

The fund group, with $116 billion in assets under management, began broadcasting a series of 30-second TV advertisements that first ran on prime time TV during an episode of the series "West Wing" on NBC. In all, four different TV ads are set to air for the remainder of this year and possibly into 2001, said Michael Barr, senior vice president of brand management at American Century. Two are corporate branding ads and a third is a product-specific ad. A fourth TV spot is still being developed.

The TV ads will be run nationally, on both financial and non-financial shows, at the same time two new print ads, co-developed with ad agency Rubin Postaer & Associates of Santa Monica, Calif., will run. Rubin Postaer has created ads for American Century since 1996.

The combined TV/print ad initiative is a multi-million dollar campaign, said Barr. He declined to disclose the exact expenditure or the firm's annual advertising budget. But this year's ad budget was slightly larger than last year's, he said.

The new TV spots are a departure from the series of 30-second TV ads American Century began running nationally in June 1998. The earlier ads showed an actor in a bare studio playing to the camera. They were, for the most part, product-focused. In one, the actor played the soulful song identified as "The Tax Time Blues" on a harmonica. In another, the same actor gave a knockout punch to a punching bag labeled "S&P 500" to illustrate that an American Century fund had outperformed the popular investment index. Performance information was presented on-screen.

These earlier commercials were about the emergence of American Century as a newly-merged company. Performance ads followed.

"Now, this latest evolution, puts all of this together and wraps it into our personality," Barr said.

One of the new TV spots, called "House," opens with a tranquil scene of people working to build what appears to be a seaside house. There are no voices, only music. The single word "American" appears on the screen followed by the word, "Goal," which takes a few seconds to come into focus. A second later, the word "Goal" fades away, and the word "Drive" appears to accompany the word "American" that remains on the screen throughout the commercial. The final word, "Dream" then takes its turn fading in and out as the commercial cuts away from the house and its workers to a screen with just the American Century name, tree logo and Internet address.

A second, similar new TV spot called "College" again opens with only music. The main scene, shot from overhead, is a well-manicured college campus with neat, intersecting cement walkways. An apparently new college graduate clad in gown and mortarboard is happily jogging down a path. Birds chirp and a campus clock tolls. Again, the word "American" emerges on the screen, followed by the fading in and out of the three words, "Determination, Enlightenment and, Optimism."

The all-music TV ads convey a sense of confidence and well being. The ads target retail investors, financial advisers and brokers said Chris Doyle, an American Century spokesperson.

"We are in an increasingly cluttered media environment," said Barr, in explanation of the ads without dialogue. "Most people break through the clutter by turning up the volume. We think the more effective way is by being quiet - a whisper."

The third, product-specific ad shows the quick-paced inner-workings of a factory, symbolizing a growth-oriented company, said Barr.

"It's seeking out companies with accelerated earnings," says the voiceover. "For we believe they have the brightest futures. It's hand-selecting the best of those companies, one-by-one. It's trusting in a process that can deliver solid, long-term results. It's what we call American Potential." The ad gives the one-, three-, five-, 10-year and lifetime performance of the America Century Ultra Fund.

The two new print ads, which have begun to run in The Wall Street Journal and other daily publications, will begin to run in Money, Smart Money and other magazines in April, said Barr.

One print ad, showing a man walking through knee-deep snow in an open field followed by a dog, includes a poem called, "American Commitment."

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