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Time to Strike a Lighthearted Pose

Advertisements and marketing by fund companies are either all or nothing: They terrorize investors - or pacify them.

The majority of ads by fund companies send people to the edge of a savings abyss, where they are stopped cold by the sheer terror of not being able to save an incredibly large sum of money to get by in retirement.

Then there are the Utopia ads: golf courses, sailboats and idyllic beaches, where people can take a momentary leap of faith from their day-to-day struggles and picture themselves one day peacefully, happily and safely walking into the sunset.

The message underlying both approaches is: No retirement is worth attempting unless it's funded by at least $1 million.

Sure, money is a serious and a difficult subject to broach, but isn't it about time to break out of this two-tiered mold and try a fresh theme? Perhaps asset management firms could focus on the goals people aspire to in retirement, or show the kinds of legacies those fortunate enough to be well-funded are leaving, or explain the paths to success by those who've made it soundly into retirement.

A groundbreaking place for fund complexes to start brainstorming on new conversations with investors is the social mediasphere of Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, where consumer goods giants are forging spirited dialogues.

PepsiCo has four full-time marketers on its 24-hour Gatorade "Mission Control" team scouring Facebook for mention of its G-Series protein drink. Whenever they think it's appropriate, these marketing pros offer their thoughts on how the drink is "cool."

"It's like we're a person in their social circle now," Gatorade Chief Marketing Officer Sarah Robb O'Hagan told The Wall Street Journal. If the approach, now only in its sixth month, works, PepsiCo will try it on other brands, including Quaker Oats and Tropicana.

To expand his customer base to a younger crowd, fashion designer Oscar de la Renta has hired a public relations agent whose sole job is to write vivacious quips on Twitter under the handle OscarPRGirl. Already, the 29-year-old has attracted 14,300 people with musings from the front row and behind the scenes at fashion shows, in a tone reminiscent of "Sex and the City" lead character Carry Bradshaw.

Obviously, fund companies are not going to get away with such flippant remarks as, "I don't believe in e-mail. I'm an old-fashioned girl. I prefer calling and hanging up."

But the idea is - wouldn't it be refreshing and potentially very valuable for asset managers to veer from the all-or-nothing, standard mantra that either sends people to the brink of fear of life in old age or to daydreams about the beach? There's a lot more to life - and a great many more investors to be found - in between.