Ark Funds, the proprietary funds of Allfirst Bank of Baltimore, Md. is hoping consumers' love of the family dog will allow its billboard advertising campaign to change their perceptions about mutual fund investing, according to Michael Mattingly, Ark Funds' marketing manager.

The firm wants investors to associate Ark mutual funds and the bank representatives that sell them with the feelings they have toward their own pets, said Mattingly. "I think people are overwhelmed by investing and they are scared to sit down and talk with someone about it," she said. "We wanted to demystify investing." The family dog accomplishes that goal and conveys a message of approachability, trustworthiness and reliability, she said.

The campaign includes two different billboard advertisements with large, close-up shots of friendly-looking dogs. One of the ads has a close up photograph of a golden retriever with a caption indicating it is barking, "Ark. Ark." The advertisement's tagline, "Your Money Needs A Best Friend, Too," helps establish the message of trustworthiness, Mattingly said. The other advertisement has a photograph of a border collie with a stick in its mouth with the "Ark. Ark." caption. "Teach Your Money Some New Tricks," the advertisement's tagline states.

The campaign will help establish Ark Fund's brand name while also building recognition for Allfirst Bank, Mattingly said. Allfirst, formerly First Maryland Bancorp, changed its name last year and rebranded five banking divisions under the Allfirst name. In October of last year, Ark launched the first phase of its billboard campaign. The billboards simply informed consumers that Ark funds were available through all Allfirst Bank branches. The bank's rebranding campaign caught consumers' attention and the second phase of the campaign, which includes billboards located near branch locations, should reinforce the new brand in those markets, Mattingly said. Allfirst Bank, a subsidiary of Allied Irish Banks of Dublin, Ireland now has 260 branches in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Washington D.C., northern Virginia and Delaware.

While one of the campaign's goals is to ease average consumers' trepidation about investing, it is also designed to give some novelty to what is perceived to be an old product, said Bill Mitchell, the creative director at Marriner Marketing Communications of Columbia, Md., the firm that developed the ads for Ark. "One of the things we are trying to do is make mutual funds cool," he said. "From my standpoint, people in their twenties and thirties think (funds) are something your parents did. We tried to make it younger."

Marriner encouraged Ark to cut back on the small number of magazine advertisements on which it had previously spent its advertising budget and instead invest in outdoor advertising, he said. Typically, outdoor advertising is more effective with a younger audience, he said.

Ark's campaign is a good one because it includes two important criteria for the medium, said Sheila Hayes, a spokesperson for the Outdoor Advertising Association of America of Washington D.C. The billboards' proximity to branch locations targets a captive audience driving somewhere in the vicinity of the bank and the advertisements quickly convey their message in a catchy manner that is easy to remember, she said.

The advertisements are effective because they use familiar, warm images to which many young professionals can relate, said Darby Hobbs, president of Graylyn Associates, of Chatham, Mass., a marketing consulting firm for the financial services industry. "Most people (have) dogs instead of children," Hobbs said.

Mattingly declined to comment on how much Ark is spending on the advertising campaign, but said it is the firm's largest advertising campaign.

In general, outdoor advertising has grown more popular with financial service companies over recent years and the industry ranks ninth out of all industries in terms of dollars spent on outdoor advertising, said Hayes. In 1999, the industry spent $82 million on outdoor advertising, up from $66 million in 1998, according to Competitive Media Reporting of New York.

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