At least two intermediary-sold mutual fund advisers have introduced advertising that spoofs online investing.
Both Franklin Resources of San Mateo, Calif. and Putnam Investments of Boston are poking fun at the fact that a significant number of investors have become glued to their computer screens to glean investment information and guidance and to trade stocks through the Internet. The message of these ads is, while there is plenty of investment information available online, it takes a financial adviser who knows an individual's financial situation to help him cut through the clutter of available information and provide individual advice.
Franklin launched a new print ad in the June 28th issue of The Wall Street Journal depicting a dozen computer mice poised to chomp a tantalizing hunk of Swiss cheese. The headline reads: "How do you know when an Internet investment is just a feeding frenzy?" Underneath, a paragraph emphasizes the importance of turning information into knowledge with the help of a financial adviser. The ad is scheduled to run in other national publications.
"The purpose of the campaign is to remind investors that there is value in advice," said Holly Gibson, a company spokesperson. "A professional takes the time to learn about an investor's individual objectives, time frame and risk tolerance and can help them set realistic expectations."
The Franklin ad also offers those who call Franklin's 800 number a free brochure entitled "Getting Advice Can Make All The Difference." The brochure, co-developed by Franklin and the Forum for Investor Advice, a trade group of intermediary-sold securities and investment firms based in Bethesda, Md., points out how complex and daunting a task it can be for investors to determine which investments are best for them. The brochure also provides criteria investors can use to select an investment adviser.
While ads once pitted intermediary- sold load mutual funds against no-load funds, today ads are increasingly aimed at the Internet, said Greg Johnson, president of sales and marketing for Franklin Templeton.
"We're not trying to attack the technology and position ourselves as anti-technology or anti-Internet," he said. "But there is a big difference between information and advice. It's one thing to have access, and another thing to make it meaningful."
Franklin will continue to sell through financial intermediaries, Johnson said. But Johnson also believes the Internet can be a valuable tool in channeling information to educate investors. Franklin is also now producing TV ads on the same advice theme which will be test-marketed and aired later this year.
Putnam also ran a print ad in the July 8th Wall Street Journal which poked fun at generic online advice.
"When investing, you need someone who knows more than your username," said the ad. The core message of the ad is Putnam's recommendation that investors always consult a financial advisor for insight and guidance based on individuals' needs.
Neither online investing or consulting with a financial advisor is right for everyone, said Nancy Fisher, managing director of Putnam Investments. Many investors do choose to do some of their investing on their own, she said.
"But with larger sums of money, people want personal attention, not the generic solution to the lifestyle," said Fisher.
Statistics may bear that out. In 1998, seventy-seven percent of all new mutual fund sales were channeled through some type of financial intermediary, including 401(k) plans, fee-based planners and wrap accounts, according to the Investment Company Institute.