Diminishing assets during this protracted Wall Street slump have apparently prompted fund companies to diminish their advertising of equity funds, according to analysts and preliminary data from an advertising tracking agency.

Advertising spending from mutual fund companies offering equity products dipped from $43 million during the first quarter of last year to $35.3 million in this year's first quarter, a decline of 17%, according to data provided by Competitrack. In addition, spending nose dived 19% for the second quarter this year, from $33 million during last year's second quarter to $27.6 million this year, the data show.

The data does not reflect spending to market bond funds, balance funds, wrap accounts or other products, said Melanie Szlucha, a senior account manager at the New York-based Competitrack.

"It makes sense," said Kristin Adamonis, a research analyst at Financial Research Corp. "Sales are not what they were in 2000 and performance is not what it was in 2000, either. So I think ad budgets are probably less, and fund companies just don't have the returns that they were advertising for."

The decline reflects a slump in advertising across all industries, not just mutual funds or the financial sector, Szlucha said, as well as a shift in priorities for fund companies. She said it's anybody's guess when equity fund advertising will shift back into favor.

"Whether that's going to bounce back in September is anybody's guess," she said. "We're kind of getting a double wammy."

With the decline in spending has also come a shift in the marketing message of these firms, Szlucha said. Companies that a year ago were promoting themselves as go-getters, aggressive firms eager to sniff out new sectors ripening with opportunity, are now doing a philosophical about-face, telling investors about their stability and penchant for sound, sober decision-making.

Janus, this year's biggest advertising spender to date, for example, has shifted its message "from we're go-getting it' to we're stable, we're cautious,'" Szlucha said.

Those ads make perfect sense in volatile markets, said Chip Roame, managing principal at Tiburon Strategic Advisors. Companies such as Fidelity Investments, ranked seventh in spending, and Charles Schwab, ranked 24th, are running ads telling investors to stay in the market, keep investing, because the markets will recover as they have in the past, he said.

"I commend those ad campaigns," Roame said. "I just think that's a good thing, to try to keep consumers in the market right now."

The data show that the year's top five advertising spenders to date on equity advertising are Janus, State Farm Insurance, Oppenheimer, Invesco, Funds Group and AIM Distributors.

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