The series of unconventional print advertisements that the Guinness Atkinson Funds, Glendora, Calif., have been running in the Wall Street Journal since the start of this year are definitely not your typical mutual fund ads.
Unlike more standard mutual fund fare, these weekly ads are devoid of performance figures, star ratings or even a compelling emotional message designed to make you crave an investment in the funds and rush to your checkbook.
Instead, Guinness Atkinson has opted for a more quizzical route. Each ad offers up a Guinness Atkinson multiple choice question of the week, and invites readers to check their answer at the fund group's Web site, www.gafunds.com. Each question relates to the Asian continent, the nation of China or the city of Hong Kong, all of which are the focus of two of the group's three no-load mutual funds.
Fitting Hong Kong in the U.S.
For instance, the first question of the week explained that the island of Hong Kong is one of the Earth's most densely populated places. It then asked readers to identify which state's land mass, Texas, West Virginia or Hawaii, would most closely represent the population density of Hong Kong if all of the U.S.'s 294 million denizens were crammed together. (The answer is West Virginia).
Guinness Atkinson is the advisor to the $36 million Asia Focus Fund, the $117 million China and Hong Kong Fund and the $50 million Global Innovators Fund, which originally began life in December 1998 as the Wired Index Fund. The funds were originally The Investec Funds, and before September of 2000, had been named the Guinness Flight Investment Funds. During the heyday of the dot-com boom, these were some of the top highflying funds in the Internet world (see MFMN 12/14/98, 7/26/99).
But this past April, the new manager, Guinness Atkinson Asset Management and its two principals, Tim Guinness and James (Jim) Atkinson, won shareholder approval to take over the funds' helm once again (see MFMN 2/17/03).
London-based Guinness had previously been the CEO of the Guinness Flight Funds and Atkinson had been the group's managing director of U.S. operations.
What's the goal of the Guinness Atkinson ads, which are expected to continue running over the next several weeks? To spark interest in China and Hong Kong, and get readers a bit intrigued about the region, said Atkinson in an interview.
"This is a way to draw readers to our Web site for more information," he noted. "We believed that if we teased them with interesting questions, we would spark their curiosity." He declined to specify the ad campaign's cost beyond noting that it is "well north of six figures."
Attempts by no-load funds to capture the hearts, minds and wallets of investors can be tricky. The decision was made to run the questions of the week in The Wall Street Journal as a brand-building exercise, Atkinson added.
Curiosity aside, the quirky ads are even more unusual once one knows that question No. 9 was the very first ad in the series to be created and run. Questions 10, 11 and 12 have since followed. So what happened to questions one through eight?
A clever but innocent ruse, Guinness Atkinson chose to begin the ad series with question No. 9 to give the appearance that the ads had been running a while, Atkinson said. "It wasn't meant to deceive readers," he quickly added. Quiz-loving readers who went to the fund group's Web site would find questions one through eight online, and could answer each, he noted. Atkinson admitted that once the first ad had appeared in print, he had done some backpeddling to create those invisible first eight questions.
Also thinking a bit out of the box, Guinness Atkinson chose to run its question-of-the-week ads in an unusual location within Wall Street's daily newspaper of record. While the predominance of mutual fund ads run in the money and investing or the less regular personal journal sections, these ads appear within the first few pages of the main news section. That is a location that The Journal generally reserves for the ads of high-end, luxury retailers.
After considerable negotiation, the publisher relented, Atkinson said. "Because we regarded this as a branding exercise, we wanted as high a profile as possible," he commented.
Expect to see future ads peppered with a bit of humor.
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