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Putting the 'i" Into iShares


BlackRock is putting the "i" into iShares.

In a marketing campaign that began October 15, the creator of more than 275 varieties of exchange-traded funds is trying to drive that point home with a combination of print, online and television messages that say: Every investors is unique.

To reinforce that, BlackRock created a unique typeface for its iShares brand to use in the campaign. Its TV commercial starts off with a chorale-like repeat of the syllable "i." Its print and other ads feature a series of individual investors standing behind an "i'' pulled away from the iShares logo.

In the exchange-traded fund field, "brand matters,'' says Raj Seshadri, global chief marketing officer for iShares. "And iShares is a phenomenal brand. There's a ton of equity in it.''

In its print ads, BlackRock uses the first-person singular, "I," deliberately, albeit in lower case. In video spots, the characters talk to the viewer, bringing the "i" across. The characters include a conservative housewife, a quite colorfast blue-collar worker, a newly-minted female retiree, a new bride, and an executive in a chauffeured limo.

"We portray each of these characters as smart, savvy investors who know what they want and get it at iShares,'' said Seshadri. "And what we want to do is create a community around this where people start talking about what do I do with my money and talking about iShares" as the way to get individual goals or family goals achieved.

The "value proposition" that iShares is trying to make is that its products provide choice, innovation ... and are the same quality as what pros use.

At the same time that Blackrock launched the campaign, the world's largest asset manager also combined its iShares and its BlackRock sales forces, in the United States.

Some of the 275 professionals were part of the process of developing the brand campaign. A wider set were surveyed, for input. And a series of in-person meetings, conference calls and training sessions were held to help them become part of the "i'' campaign, learning how to represent and present the brand.

"This is their proposition,'' Seshadri said. "It's not a marketing proposition alone.''

That sales force has to get the message to large and small wirehouses, to registered investment advisors, to insurance companies, pension funds, endowments, foundations.

Almost any type of financial firm or professional that sells ETFs or advises customers on their uses.

The campaign will last for years, Seshadri said. And it's heavily weighted toward the interaction between viewers of television and users of computers.

"The digital and TV mix is great because, for instance,'' she says, "my 12-year old son sits in front of the TV, watches football. And on his iPhone he's checking the scores on all the other games that are not on TV right now. ''

That's now recognized human behavior. So the latest form of direct marketing is to send out a message on TV, then watch a Web site light up with inquiries from potential customers, using their iPads, iPhones, competing devices and laptops to get more information, on the spot.

Traffic on the iShares web site typically spikes by about 150% for the next hour, after a TV ad plays. Web traffic in October was a record and November beat that.

"Whether they see us on business news or cable news or sports, they see us and then they come check out what is this about,'' she said. "And that's exactly what we wanted. They should educate themselves and check out all their options and think about what am I doing with my money. ''

There can also be direct interaction, via chat channels or a toll-free number that typically gets published. In the future, iShares might facilitate a connection directly to an adviser.

YouTube videos also can spur Facebook and Twitter responses, to which iShares staff can, as they deem appropriate, can respond, as well.

BlackRock chief investment strategist Russ Koesterich, for instance, is shown in one video on YouTube as a black belt in karate and, by implication, in thought leadership on investing as well.

"So the objective,'' Seshadri said, "is to start a dialogue or people start talking about what do I do with their money and then recognize that iShares can play a pretty big role in terms of helping them.''


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