By now, investors are accustomed to the creative, informal "Talk to Chuck" advertisements of Charles Schwab & Co. in which animated, yet somewhat realistic, images of people gripe about trying to get through to other brokers, but take heart at the thought of reaching Chuck Schwab, the man, through one of his people.
But furthering that notion in a brand-new series of straightforward advertisements has left some investors scratching their heads, asking, "What happened to Chuck?"
Over the past few weeks, the financial giant has placed four-page color spreads along with follow-up full pages in the "A" section of The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times, along with specialized financial trade pubs, including Financial Planning, another magazine of SourceMedia, publisher of this newsletter.
According to a Schwab advertising spokesman, this is only the start of an upcoming national push the company launched in March and plans to continue through the end of the year.
Inspired by recent economic uncertainties, these latest ads carry a far more serious tone than the public has seen from Schwab in recent years, and as the copy in one ad bleakly suggests, set against an alarming orange background, "The future isn't what it used to be."
That same ad also makes note of the formidable new challenges that American investors face, notwithstanding: "the decline of pensions, rising healthcare and education costs, plus longer life expectancy."
So, what's behind this advertising u-turn? Burt Greenwald, president of mutual fund consultancy B.J. Greenwald & Associates of Philadelphia, believes that as a financial advisory and brokerage firm, Schwab has to "step up and provide assurances that it is ready to help the investor find safe transit through perilous waters," adding: "That suggests something with more gravitas than Talk To Chuck.'"
These latest series of advertisements have already reached well over a million and a half readers, and with the economy clearly the No. 1 issue in the minds of voters in this election cycle, Schwab is looking to strike a chord with an issue it knows resonates with most Americans: Money. In doing so, they are trying a fresh approach.
This campaign has "a different style, different feel, different focus," explained Matt Hurwitz, a corporate PR representative for Schwab. Hurwitz said it is "a first of its kind for Schwab [because] the context is the entire firm, everything under the Schwab umbrella."
According to Hurwitz, the message of this campaign is tailored to drive corporate brand awareness among opinion leaders (C-suite, analysts, and media) and it is intended to serve as a complement to "Talk to Chuck," not a replacement.
Hurwitz also insisted that Schwab has no plans to dismantle its animated campaign in the foreseeable future, so for those worried about Chuck's fate, fear not.
In the wake of rate cuts, subprime mortgages and markets that often seem more volatile than China's bedrock, Schwab, as well as its competitors, is hoping to promote the notion that its people are in touch, concerned and secure. This means that in addition to connecting with everyday investors, Schwab is also trying reach out to dissatisfied advisers who may want to consider becoming independent.
Schwab serves more than 5,500 independent advisers, a feat that it is more than willing to share with anyone that will listen.
"We support more independent Registered Investment Advisors than anybody else," one ad boldly claims. Also, it notes, "Schwab has always been there to provide help and guidance wherever the individual investor needs it. It's why we helped support the independent adviser channel early on-to give people an alternative to the Wall Street way of doing things."
While a phrase like an "alternative to the Wall Street way" may sound slightly peculiar -especially given the fact that these ads are being posted in the bible of Wall Street, there is no error in word choice here.
When it comes to the Wall Street crowd, the reality is that Schwab is looking to alter its own perception with this audience.
"Specifically, that means increased awareness and understanding that Schwab is the right company to help employers, advisers and individual investors alike manage their financial futures," Hurwitz said. "This is not mutually exclusive with reaching out to Wall Street."
No More Joking Around
Perhaps this latest series of ads from Schwab should serve as an ominous warning that in a struggling economy, there is no more room for casual conversation. These days, investors are not merely looking for results, they are looking for a sense of consideration that when they decide to invest their money, it is not just for the sake of making more money, but truly for the sake of securing a better future for themselves and their families.
So, is Schwab on the right track with this latest move? Greenwald thinks they are.
"It is a timely switch in tone from the folksy Talk to Chuck,' to a more serious approach befitting the demanding economic scenario," Greenwald said.
That said, should it be the case that turbulent economic times persist, do not be surprised if you start seeing a lot more "Charles" and a lot less "Chuck."
(c) 2008 Money Management Executive and SourceMedia, Inc. All Rights Reserved.