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Super Bowl Absentee Advertisers

Whether you’re a NY Giants fan or a New England Patriots fan, one thing was clear. Super Bowl XLII was pretty much devoid of financial services advertising fluff while beer, soft drink and car ads dominated, as usual.

 

At a record $2.7 million on average for a 30-second spot on Fox’s broadcast of the game, most financial services companies took a pass.

E*Trade, which provides a variety of services including allowing investors to buy and sell 7,000-plus mutual funds and every ETF that exists, was one of the brave few which ran not one, but two, commercials featuring a cute-as-a-button baby wielding a surprisingly adult male voice. The spots evoked visions of the rough talking Baby Herman from 1988’s Who Framed Roger Rabbit?—only sans the cigar and bad attitude.

In one of the spots, the baby talks directly to the audience, musing on what must be a hot topic among the daycare bottle warmers, are you too young to invest in the market? He then goes on to supposedly buy a stock via an online trade while clicking a computer mouse in an attempt by E*Trade to show just how easy online trading is. He then spits up on himself in an attempt to add a bit of humor—and reality—to the spot.

The second spot features the same tiny tot telling of musing with “the boys” about what to do with “extra coin.” Our baby star admits he used some of his savings to rent a clown (seen from the neck down in the background, shaping a long balloon into a figure). His post decision assessment: “I really underestimated the creepiness…” Our baby goes on to note that his E*Trade savings account earns eight times the national average. While the ad was meant to attract new customers with the lure of earning more at E*Trade, it no doubt had at least part of the estimated 97 million viewers wondering how this small fry could have done the math necessary to calculate a national average on anything. But the spot allowed E*Trade to showcase its new tag line: “1,000 new accounts a day.”

According to E*Trade, those two Super Bowl ads represent a significant portion of the firm’s 2008 advertising budget, which is 30% higher than 2007’s. These and other marketing initiatives are meant to reinforce the strength of E*Trade’s brand with consumers. The ads were developed by Grey New York, E*Trade’s advertising agency since November 2007. Moreover, the new ads were intended to attract new customers by showcasing the firm’s innovative, user-friendly and low-cost solutions.

Whether the E*Trade baby’s likeability will give birth to more customers is unknown. But E*Trade is banking on a demographic supplied by data compiled by The Nielsen Company: People with $100,000 or more in household income are three times as likely to watch the Super Bowl as people in households with $30,000 of income. In addition, a significant (but undisclosed) percentage of Super Bowl viewers are active stock traders and use discount brokerage services.

Other financial services firms have advertised during the Super Bowl in past years, but have notably not returned. These companies have apparently learned that lesson that less costly appropriations to other mediums and/or national TV ads, or even local TV spots is more cost-efficient and perhaps more effective—although that debate rears up each year.

One thing is for sure: Among the industries that typically spent the most on advertising for the first nine months of 2007 (auto, telecomm, restaurants) the financial services industry came in a distant seventh place, spending a collective $387.4 million versus the colossal $2.6 billion spent by those spendthrifts, the big automakers.

It’s not that financial services firms are unwilling to spend on TV ads. After all, Charles Schwab, Fidelity, Franklin Templeton, T. Rowe Price and Wisdom Tree now have several ads that air throughout the TV schedule and on various channels. It’s just that creating a memorable and audience-catching ad for a non-tangible asset such as a brokerage, mutual fund, retirement account or ETF is truly difficult at best.

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Mutual Funds Must Go High-Tech-v. 3.0

Over the last number of years, mutual fund transfer agencies and shareholder communications companies have tried to convince shareholders to accept paperless summary prospectuses, proxies, trade confirmations and electronically stamped signatures. Fund supermarkets and web home pages have broadened their horizons to include market commentary, videostreaming and personal financial news. At the same time, exchange-traded funds, funds-of-funds, hedge FoFs, unified managed accounts, target dates, 401(k) auto enrollment and heightened awareness among people throughout the country of the difficulties of being retired-have taken off.

Test of the Massey Mine

Fund giant boards of directors at AllianceBernstein, American Funds, Fidelity, Vanguard and others are reportedly starting to bring about meaningful change in the corporations in which they are invested. Proof should come any day now, when the shareholder proxy votes from the annual meetings are released. Fund chief executive officers spoke about the power and influence their proxies wield in an interesting Reuters article last week, "Mutual Funds Seek to Shed 'Rubber Stamp' Tag."

Milestones

In 2011, 401(k) plans will turn 30, but the milestones the mutual fund industry has reached in this time are but a nanosecond in the history of U.S. retirement policy. Executives we interviewed for this special edition of Money Management Executive for the Investment Company Institute's meeting in Washington, speak to important milestones of the recent past and into the future. Look inside for observations and forecasts by Ted Benna, Robert L. Reynolds, Dan Fuss, David C. John, Steven Miyao and others.

At Age 30, It's Time for a Revamping for the 401(k)

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the 401(k), the revolutionary retirement savings vehicle that has been annihilating pension plans, empowering individuals to take part in the stock market-and, sadly, that left retirees with the misfortune of leaving the workforce in 2000 or 2008 very badly off. The cracks in the system are prompting many asset managers, regulators and retirement experts to take a hard look at 401(k)s and how they can be fixed.

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