The advertising has been austere in its simplicity. Page after page of simple text, in many cases, not even a logo. And with each of these full-page display ads, fund companies have expressed sympathy for the loss of life, assurances that assets are safe, and for those with offices in or near the World Trade Center, thanks for help in getting back on their feet.
The ads, purchased by Deutsche Bank, Morgan Stanley, Credit Suisse First Boston and nearly a dozen others, began to abate the last week of September, said a sales representative in the Wall Street Journal's advertising department who declined to give his name. Such full-page advertisements typically cost $160,000, although the price can vary from contract to contract, he said.
After three weeks of chiseling into marketing budgets with these advertisements, fund companies are now starting to shift their strategy, say marketing executives. An already ailing advertising industry will see further declines from fund companies, who are reeling from the fallout of Sept. 11. Executives say it is too early to tell how deep the cuts will be.
For those ads that do make it into the media, companies will employ a mixed bag of strategies, some continuing to address the tragedy, others avoiding it altogether. Executives say the attack-related themes will continue, perhaps not in the form of the emotionally charged, text-only advertising of past weeks, but rather addressing the economy's woes. For others, the expressions of sympathy and the assurances of stability have been said. Now, it's time to move on.
OppenheimerFunds, for example, ran an advertisement in the Journal a week after the attacks, expressing thanks to the community for help in recovering from the tragedy. The firm had kept its headquarters on five floors of Two World Trade Center. All of its 600 employees survived.
Now, the firm plans to resume the advertising strategy it set for itself long before the attacks, said Bruce Dunbar, VP of brand marketing at Oppenheimer.
"For us, we have long-term goals as far as our advertising is concerned," he said. "We have investors with long-term goals as far as their investments are concerned. We need to get back to normal business as soon as we can and start pursuing our initiatives."
Lisa Cohen of The Collaborative, a sales strategy firm, said companies are beginning to examine their stalled sales in the wake of the attacks and build strategies to revive them. "People are expressing a lot of frustration with where the sales are," she said. "So I think that's going to drive a shift."
Sympathy Ads Not Enough
Advertisements expressing sympathy were touching and understandable, she said, but they were problematic in that the message was not carried consistently through the distribution arms of the companies who ran them.
"These ads aren't connected to the sales strategy," she said. "It's got to be tied into what does your communications plan look like and what does the advertising look like. You want to make sure your client services people and your call center staffs are armed with the same stuff, too."
Cohen said many fund companies are requesting sales strategy training from her firm because staffs need to know how to deal with a market so deeply impacted by the events of Sept. 11. She said sales staffs are leery of offending prospects who may have had family in the Twin Towers, or may simply be frightened since the attacks.
"People are doing these display ads to get people comfortable - We care; we're a caring company; we feel good about you,'" she said. But "there's nothing else in place. That's not a knock; it's just a fact. None of us had anything in place to deal with this."
So, firms are planning to develop tools for communicating in an emotionally delicate environment, she said. And, because advertising is - or at least should be - a closely integrated aspect of the sales strategy, she said, future fund company advertising will likely reflect those tonal shifts, she said.
The emotional undercurrent will likely run through fund advertising through the first quarter of next year, said Scott Tanner, a V.P. at Sunstar, a public relations firm.
"Between now and the end of the year, every ad is going to have some little hint of Staying the course,' or something like that," he said.