There has been a lot of talk about mutual funds moving away from the direct-sold channel and away from targeting the retail market, and last night's Super Bowl may have been indicative of that trend.

In recent years, fund companies such as Janus, Alliance Capital and Nuveen placed ads during the big game. Last year, both INVESCO and AIM bought airtime. This year, however, funds stayed away from the Super Bowl. At press time, no mutual funds had bought an ad slot during the game, with only a few spots left unsold, according to Marcus DiNetto, managing editor of The Sports Business Daily, a trade publication that covers the sports industry.

"We advertised in it last year, but it just isn't part of our media plan this year," said David Bachert, a spokesman for AIM. INVESCO, which like AIM, is a subsidiary of AMVESCAP, would not comment whether it was advertising during the game and if not, why it had decided to cut its ads. Last year, however, the firm sent out a press release weeks before the game touting its upcoming ads.

The transition from direct to intermediary-sold products has to be considered as an impetus for retail advertising cuts, said one advertising executive from an agency that represents mutual funds. INVESCO, which announced last November that it was moving from the no-load to intermediary-sold distribution channel, is scaling back its retail advertising, according to Laura Parsons, a spokeswoman for the firm. The Super Bowl is the largest retail advertising opportunity of the year, but as more firms leave the direct-sold channel, that opportunity becomes less attractive.

"It's not that surprising," the ad executive said. "There are reduced budgets and lack of performance by mutual funds this past year. Those are the obvious reasons."

Advertising dollars in virtually every industry have dwindled, said Stuart Elliott, an advertising columnist with The New York Times. An average nationally broadcast 30-second spot during this year's game sold for between $2 million and $2.2 million, depending on when it was sold and the volume purchased by the advertiser, according to an industry source. Towards the end of last week, the few remaining spots were being sold for between $1.5 million and $1.7 million, the source said.

Super Bowl Stalwarts

Not all financial firms have abandoned the Super Bowl. Financial service companies that cater directly to retail consumers, such as Charles Schwab and E*Trade, advertised their brokerage services before and during last night's game.

Mutual fund companies may be looking to market to financial intermediaries, but it is not unheard of for firms to advertise during the Super Bowl, in order to reach a specific market, Elliott said. Last year, Accenture was trying to reach CEOs and CIOs, not the public at large, when they advertised during the game.

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