In the latest move in the ETF pricing war, BlackRock unveiled a series of cost-cutting initiatives aimed, almost directly, at rival Vanguard, which last week enacted some price-saving moves of its own.

As part of the new initiatives, BlackRock’s iShares ETF business said it would create iShares Core Series, a group of 10 ETFs specially designed for the needs of long-term, buy-and-hold investors. BlackRock also will create a dedicated advertising campaign, including its first-ever television ads, to target smaller retail investors and educate them about the uses of ETFs in their portfolios. BlackRock also said it would cut fees on some iShares Core Series ETF products and reorganize its sales force as part of these initiatives.

BlackRock’s moves take direct aim at Vanguard, which itself switched index companies on 22 of its ETFs last week in an effort to cut costs. Vanguard has gained ETF market share mostly because its ETF product generally carry lower expense fees than does BlackRock’s ETFs. While BlackRock’s iShares dominates the ETF market with a 41% market share, according to Morningstar, its share has been eroded by Vanguard, which currently holds an 18% share of the market. State Street, the second largest ETF manager, holds a 25% market share. So far this year, Vanguard has even outpaced iShares in net inflows of U.S. ETFs, netting $41.6 billion compared to iShares’ $34.6 billion, according to Morningstar.

Mark Wiedman, managing director and global head of iShares, said that the launch of iShare’s new Core Series, its planned advertising campaign and sales force realignment are key components of the firm’s broader plan to spur stronger growth domestically and internationally. Of the main initiative—the launch of the lower-priced Core Series ETFs—Wiedman described it as an “opportunity to offer a cost-effective suite of funds” under the iShares brand to a potentially new group of investors.

The newly launched iShares Core Series is planned as suite of lower-priced ETF products that investors can use a building blocks for the core of their portfolios in domestic and international equities and U.S. fixed income.

The iShares Core Series is composed of four new and six existing iShares funds. This is the first series of iShares ETFs designed specifically with long-term buy-and-hold investors in mind, the firm said in a statement.

iShares is also cutting the expense fees on the ETFs it is including in the Core Series. For example, the fees on the iShares Core S&P Total U.S. Stock Market ETF will be cut to 7 basis points, from 20 basis points, although it will still be priced higher than the 6 basis points Vanguard charges on its comparable ETF.

As to the new branding and advertising initiative, iShares described it as a multi-pronged approach that will focus on individual investors. The brand launch will begin this week in the U.S. and across Canada, the U.K., Germany and the Netherlands later this month. It will include digital, television and print advertising, and would likely be pushed into global markets by next year, BlackRock stated.

As the third part of its new initiative, BlackRock will integrate the iShares U.S. retail sales team into its overall U.S. retail sales force over the next few months, creating a team of approximately 275 professionals to provide support to both the iShares and BlackRock retail platforms, the firm said.


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