How do you reach out to gun-shy investors and get them talking to their advisors, and vice versa?

If you're the John Hancock Funds, you launch campaigns that give an unvarnished portrayal of what they are thinking and feeling.

Hancock launched two such campaigns in March. The first, entitled "Trust," involves a series of print ads run in such financial news outlets as Barron's, On Wall Street, and The second, a television campaign entitled "You Are Not Alone," runs a series of commercials depicting frank conversations between investors about their financial worries. These will run during sports coverage on many networks as well as a variety of financial news web sites. Both were developed at Hancock's Boston ad agency, Hill Holiday.

The campaigns are the first for Hancock's chief marketing officer and senior vice president David Longfritz. Longfritz, who has been in this position for roughly a year, says the campaigns were largely guided by some insights gathered during field research across the country, as well as a survey released by John Hancock in February on investor trust.

So how did you get the ideas for these campaigns?

It wasn't something we were initially setting out to look for, we just stumbled across it. It was interesting. We were just doing our focus groups, like any good company would, and after we had these groups and were having dinner, we'd say to each other, "Isn't it amazing that people still trust their advisors after everything that has happened?" Then we'd go to another city, and, there, investors would go again about how much they trust their advisors.

Reaching out to investors, and advisors, is that important?

The key really was the focus groups. It's something all good companies should do, but some cut back now. We do quarterly reviews of investor sentiment, and we decided that this time while we were in the field, we would also do focus groups with advisors and their clients in different parts of the country. One of the highlights that came out in these focus groups was: even though investors have been beat up over the past three years, they still had a lot of confidence in their advisors. Once we saw this, we decided let's set out a few questions about trust, rather than just a qualitative reading at the focus groups. We ended up doing an online survey of 1,000 respondents. It was even bigger than we expected.

What are investors saying?

They know that they have to start planning for retirement again. They know that they have to start making decisions. There is still a lot of paralysis out there. Investors know it. They're saying "there are probably risks I won't take that I should take."

But then they are also saying things like "I'm sick of one percent returns!" or "I'll never retire," or "We're like the generation that went through the Great Depression."

And when someone would say that, everyone would nod their heads.

Showing such unvarnished views of investors can be risky. Why do that?

The ad agency explained it best: Generate trust through truth. If we just show the truth of what is going on out there, what investors are feeling at this moment. If we chronicle exactly what we saw and heard at the focus groups, and then show this in the commercials, we will generate investor trust. We would show that we know them.

Are investors that despondent?

There is still an underlying foundation of optimism. We didn't see depression or despondency. More like "Isn't this crazy?" That's what they're saying with a smirk on their face, or a shrug of the shoulder. They still laugh. It wasn't like they would say these things and then look miserable. Investors are resilient. That is the key message we wanted to get through. They had the sense that we are all in this together. And from that you can see how we came up with the message: "You are not alone."

All of these ads are a call to action.

What about advisors?

They know their jobs. For the senior people, this is probably their fourth or fifth economic cycle.

Wouldn't it be interesting to find out whether the advisors who kept their clients invested through the Great Recession now have generated more money? That is something that you might say is intuitive. As an advisor, it would be great to hear that. There are so many people that have said that: stay invested for the long run. We just came through a particularly rough cycle, but the discipline still holds.

What's next?

We are now going to do a much more detailed survey on the issue of trust. We plan to launch it in the next month or so. We are going to drill down into not just trust, but a lot of the details. Why do they trust your advisor? What do they do that makes you trust them more? What do you do that makes you trust them less? In 2008, did your advisor tell you to stay in the market or get out, do you trust him or her more now-or less-because of that? We want to go into deeper levels that perhaps nobody has drilled into before. If good stuff comes out, we will use it to further fuel our campaign. We'll then go to our advisors and tell them, "We have good information for you," or actually put together some value-added programs using what we've learned.

Subscribe Now

Access to premium content including in-depth coverage of mutual funds, hedge funds, 401(K)s, 529 plans, and more.

3-Week Free Trial

Insight and analysis into the management, marketing, operations and technology of the asset management industry.