Fifth Third Bancorp has begun the first advertising campaign focused on its mutual funds’ performance and its skill at offering financial advice.

The Cincinnati banking company plans to spend $3 million on a television, print, radio, and direct mail campaign designed to brand Fifth Third as a quality investment house before retail investors return to stocks and equity funds, said Wil Daly, the chief marketing officer at Fifth Third.

"We want to be out ahead when [investors] decide to return" to the market, Daly said.

With the campaign—which began last week and is scheduled to run through April 30—Fifth Third hopes to achieve 50% growth in mutual fund sales at its bank branches this year, he said.

Last year, the company noticed that its premier checking accounts were holding much more—an average of $38,000 per account—than the $20,000 usual in years past, Daly said. This suggested that big depositors were taking money out of stocks and mutual funds and waiting for the market to improve, he added.

The company hopes that a campaign touting performance and investment advice will keep Fifth Third depositors from going to a name-brand investment adviser when the market recovers, Daly said. "We don’t think we should lose a customer to Fidelity or Schwab," he said.

The television ads will tout Fifth Third Bank Investment Advisors’ ability to navigate for investors during difficult times, Daly said.

The print ads will focus more narrowly on fund performance, he said, in particular a 21.88% gain last year for the Fifth Third Micro Cap Value Fund.

Melanie Szlucha, senior account manager at Competitrack, a New York company that monitors advertising, said that banking companies spent about $21 million last year on print and television advertising exclusive to mutual funds. By way of comparison, nonbank mutual funds spent $245.2 million, she said. The biggest bank spenders last year were State Street Corp., Barclays PLC, Bank One Corp., and Northern Trust Corp., she said.

Despite Fifth Third’s push to sell its funds through nonaffiliated brokerages since last spring, this ad campaign is aimed at current and prospective customers within Fifth Third’s market area, said Jeni Wehrmeyer, VP of the company’s investment advisers marketing division.

This is the first time Fifth Third has targeted customers in Detroit or Chicago, cities where it gained a market position in its merger with Old Kent Financial Corp. last April, said Wehrmeyer.

The company’s mutual funds manage $12 billion of assets.

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