Just weeks after hammering out final settlements with state and federal securities regulators at both its AIM Investments and Invesco Funds Group affiliate, AIM is back to business as usual, the business of branding, that is.

On Sunday, Oct. 31, AIM aired the first in its new series of 30-second TV ads during "60 Minutes," and followed it up with a similar full-page print ad appearing on the back page of the Nov. 1 issue of Barron's.

AIM's new "Solutions" complementary TV ads will run through the spring. The ads are part of AIM's $5 million total advertising budget for this year.

Print ads will run in financial publications, including The Wall Street Journal. AIM's TV commercials, the first television commercials AIM has run since 2002, will appear on national news, business and financial networks and on local shows in markets such as Atlanta, Denver and Houston, AIM's hometown.

"AIM has always felt that advertising was important to position the brand in the marketplace," said Gene Needles, president and chief executive officer of AIM Distributors. But because of the bear market and economic difficulties over the past three to four years, the advertising pullback was dramatic across the industry, including at AIM, he noted. AIM executives decided it was time to get back to branding. "If you're going to establish a brand presence in the marketplace, it is not something you want to do willy-nilly," he added.

While this specific ad campaign is new, AIM is continuing its multiple-year theme of promoting the brand and communicating what the brand represents to both financial intermediaries and their clients. As the firm's mission statement puts it, AIM strives "to be a premier investment management company, helping investors reach their financial goals by providing them with investment products and services through financial intermediaries."

In the new campaign, don't expect to see any eye-popping performance numbers or fast-paced action ads. Instead, the low-key ads all sport a common theme centering around AIM's ability to provide investment solutions for both clients and the financial advisers these end clients seek counsel and guidance from.

The campaign was three months in the making and was created by The Richards Group of Dallas, which has been the creative force behind AIM and Invesco's ads since 1999. "I think the past has proven that if you talk about performance, you get a lot of attention," said Jim McGhee, account principal with Richards. "But outside of that, you are talking about something intangible and communicating what a brand stands for and why to do business with AIM." Among The Richards Group's other clients are The Home Depot, Fruit of the Loom, TV Guide and the National Pork Board, for which Richards created the famous slogan: "The other white meat."


Unscripted Joes

Unlike AIM and Invesco's notable TV spots that ran during Super Bowl XXXV in early 2001, which featured notable sports celebrities including legendary football coach Bill Walsh and Tour De France champion Lance Armstrong, there are no high-profile, big-name celebrities this time around. Instead, AIM has boosted five of its own employees to star status by pushing them into the acting limelight.

Each print ad features the headshot of the AIM employee, their name and minimal text suggesting that AIM's customized investment solutions, executed by a financial adviser, are the ticket. Under each employee's name is the slogan: "Solutions Builder."

AIM's television spots feature the same cast of five solution builders, but in these spots each answers, in their own unscripted words, questions being asked off screen. Employees were not prompted ahead of time as to what questions would be thrown at them, according to AIM, even though one employee waxes poetic that AIM represents "passion, reliability, trust." Another notes that one of AIM's strengths is always being there, 24x7x365. A third explains that today, there are no cookie-cutter solutions.

While AIM had originally hoped that each employee's off-the-cuff personal remarks would then be punctuated by their delivery of a succinct two-line tagline, that didn't happen. It turned out that while the employees felt comfortable describing the company in their own words, they clammed up when it came to the tagline, which none was able to satisfactorily deliver, Needles said.

Using employees is not a new concept, but having employees address, without a script, what it means to work at AIM is new, he added. The concept of building a brand based upon employees hails back to AIM's roots and the premise of the company's founder that people are the product, Needles said.

Although the decision was made early on to exempt all members of AIM's executive committee from being featured in the ads, 223 other employees turned out for the original casting call to audition. That list was then whittled down. Those deemed to be knowledgeable and passionate in their responses made the final cut, explained AIM spokesman David Bachert.

While the representative employees generally cut across all ranks of the firm, some of the faces will be quite familiar to financial advisers. For instance, one ad features Mark McMeans, head of AIM's fledgling separately managed account division. Two others, Paul Brodeur and Sherrie English are both external AIM wholesalers.

While AIM isn't encouraging any of these budding actors to give up their day jobs, they are getting paid for their commercial work, Needles said. They received a minimum union scale wage for appearing in the ads, and they will receive an additional amount if the ad airs.

Putting a face on a company and tying that to its brand can be a good strategy, said Lynn Parker, co-founder and principal of ParkerLePla, a brand-consulting company in Seattle. A strong branding campaign must be relevant to the audience and clearly show how the company and its brand are different from the rest, she said. Further, it must make a strong, compelling, emotional connection with people, whether that emotion be fear, relief or excitement, she said. "Employees are a great way to create that emotional connection," she said. After reviewing AIM's initial print ad, however, Parker said it fell flat and was "boring."

"A brand has to be something that is valuable and can be differentiated, no matter what the item is," she added.

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