Fidelity is starting another round of its attention-getting advertising campaign featuring former Magellan Fund manager Peter Lynch.

The ads are the third phase in the campaign, which is using the "Know What You Own, Know Why You Own It" theme peppered with lots of Lynch on television, radio and in print media.

The latest ads are a deviation from the humorous spots that began in the fall of last year. Those ads, which featured Lynch, Lily Tomlin and Don Rickles, received mixed notices in the press that reviews advertising.

The newest television ads, a series of five ads, only feature Lynch and focus on specific Fidelity products. Lynch is asked an investment question, and he mentions a specific fund in his response. The ads cover dividends, blue chip stocks, earnings, retirement and long-term investing. A sixth ad about market volatility is also running. TV ads began Feb. 6 and print advertising began Jan 26.

According to USA Today's Ad Track poll conducted last fall, only 12 percent said they liked the ads featuring Tomlin "a lot." The poll found that those who liked the ads the best were older - over 65 - and those who made between $50,000 and $75,000. Those ads, which had Tomlin playing different characters and asking Lynch for advice, began the campaign in September, 1998.

Ads that featured Rickles, which constitute the second phase of the campaign, have generally the same story line, offering simple investment advice with a humorous twist, but focus more on retirement planning and rolling over IRAs. The Tomlin ads only ran for about a month, but the Rickles ads are to continue through 1999.

In an article last fall entitled "Like Dow, Fidelity's ads are good and bad," Bob Garfield, who critiques advertising for Advertising Age magazine, wrote that the spots with Tomlin are "badly written, Tomlin isn't funny and Lynch is as wooden and awkward in them as he is relaxed in others."

"This campaign is both terrible and very good," Garfield wrote.

But Stephen Cone, president of Fidelity's marketing division says that what the critics say about the advertising does not matter. It is what the public thinks that is important and the public responded well, said Cone.

"I think people are taking shots because they've got nothing better to do," Cone said last week. "People love the campaign."

Since the campaign started, more people have been contacting Fidelity, and the ads have had a positive effect on how people view Fidelity's brand, said Cone. About 400,000 more people contacted Fidelity in 1998 than in 1997 and the company doubled the net assets it was able to bring in through the retail channel in 1998 versus 1997 in part, because of the advertising campaign, says Cone. A lot of that business has been in the IRA roll-over area and that is a major reason the Rickles ads will continue throughout the year, he said.

Hits to the Fidelity website have also increased, Cone said. The home-page of that site also features Lynch. As this would suggest, the campaign is integrated across all marketing media. Lynch's face is literally everywhere, hanging in windows of Fidelity's investor centers and above escalators in airports.

The Tomlin and Rickles ads helped to raise awareness of Fidelity, says Ken Harris, a partner with marketing and sales consultant Cannondale Associates of Evanston, Ill. But, the humorous approach of the ads may have put people off, he said.

"I don't think they necessarily gained anything by utilizing humor. They were trying to make light of something that is relatively serious," Harris said. Tomlin and Rickles may have been brought in out of fear that Lynch was not well known by the public, he said.

However Harris believes that the basic idea behind the Fidelity campaign is sound - that of bringing simple investing principles to light.

"I think what they were attempting to do was bring something that's unintelligible at 30,000 feet down to ground zero... to make it simple for people to understand," he said.

And regardless of whether people liked the ads, the ads impressed people, and in that sense, the ads were successful, Harris says.

"I think that it certainly raised Fidelity's profile. I think that they were probably as successful as they'd like," Harris said.

Fidelity has plans for a fourth and fifth phase of the ad campaign for this year. Cone said those phases could include Tomlin and Rickles again but he declined to elaborate.

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