Despite much discussion in banking circles about the importance of building nationally recognized brands, big banks still advertise as if they were regional players. Meanwhile, card companies and big brokerages spend most of their resources developing nationally recognized names.

Marketing specialists say big commercial banks may be missing out on an opportunity to develop themselves as household names, particularly as the advertising "noise" intensifies with the convergence of banking, brokerage, and insurance. "Not all advertising is equal," said Alan Adamson, a managing director at Landor Associates in New York. Banks "are going to be squeezed out,'' he said.

Competitive Media Reporting of New York says that the 300 banks and thrifts it tracks spent $451.4 million on advertising in the first half -- and that 54% of it went for local and regional newspaper ads.

Only three of the 10 biggest bank spenders on advertising -- First Union Corp., Bank of America Corp., and Chase Manhattan Corp. -- paid for any time at all on the national TV airwaves.

The 153 brokerages that Competitive Media tracks, on the other hand, spent only 8% of their $510 million of ad dollars on local and regional newspapers.

These companies spent 28% on network television and 16% on cable TV spots -- and all of the top 10 spenders bought national air time.

For companies specializing in credit cards, the results were more dramatic. Of the $386 million spent by the group -- 55 companies were tracked -- 45% went to network TV ads, 25% to cable spots, and a mere 2.1% to space in local newspapers. Seven of the 10 biggest spenders bought newspaper and network television slots. All the card companies promoted themselves in cable network ads.

Experts on advertising trends said bank marketing budgets are still geared toward selling products and rates at the local level. The banks did spend on local or spot TV ads, devoting 11% of their overall budgets, compared with 8% for the brokerages and 3.5% for the card companies.

The problem, as most advertising consultants see it, is that network TV time is too expensive and offers less of a chance than local media of reaching the target audience. "You have to spend a lot of money to rise above the noise," said William Keenan, president of the Wilmington, Del.-based consulting firm De Novo Corp.

"Otherwise, you have to target less glamorous, more efficient media."

There are some exceptions. First Union spent 70% of its $62.6 million in ad dollars through June on network TV and another 7% on cable networks for highly stylized ads depicting the institution as a broadly diversified financial firm. Citigroup Inc.'s Salomon Smith Barney brokerage unit devoted 27% of its $17.5 million budget through June to network TV and 38% to cable networks.

Bank One Corp. has also shown a willingness to fork over the big bucks. Though not reflected in the numbers currently available, the Chicago banking company has reportedly earmarked $100 million to market its Internet subsidiary, which was launched in June.

A spokesman would not say how much of that marketing budget would go to TV ads, network or otherwise, and data from Competitive Media will not be available until next year. But it's the type of budget that would help the start-up "burn through the clutter," Mr. Keenan said.

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