American Century Investments has started an advertising campaign aimed at banks and brokerages.
Last week the Kansas City, Mo.-based mutual fund company rolled out a series of print and television ads targeting institutions that might sell the funds, said Michael W. Barr, senior vice president of brand management.
"We're trying to broaden from the traditional retail mutual fund customer to include institutional customers such as banks, insurance companies, and broker-dealers," Mr. Barr said. Third-party distribution is the fastest-growing area of sales for the $116 billion American Century Funds, he said.
Over 100 banks actively sell American Century's funds, said DeAnna Basler, who heads sales of the funds through the bank channel. The company would not reveal the amount of sales through banks.
"It's very important to our bank clients that they have highly recognized brand names," Ms. Basler said. The advertising campaign - which includes network television spots during the NCAA basketball tournament and the NBC drama "The West Wing" - will help build that brand awareness, she said.
The print ads will appear in financial trade publications and business publications.
Unlike past efforts, which have centered on fund performance, these ads attempt to evoke values such as discipline and commitment, a spokesman said.
"Advertising fund families on CNBC is so competitive, it's become a throwaway," said Kenneth R. Hoffman, president of Optima Group, a consulting firm in Fairfield, Conn.
American Century can stand out more by advertising on network television, Mr. Hoffman said, and consumers are likely to feel more comfortable with a familiar brand name. Given the high price of television advertising, fund firms would do better to focus on improving wholesaling and direct marketing efforts, he said.
American Century declined to say how much they were spending on the ads, other than to call it a "multimillion dollar" campaign.
This institutional push comes as J.P. Morgan & Co., which owns 45% of American Century, is increasingly focusing advertising on retail investors.
New York-based J.P. Morgan started a print and broadcast campaign in February for its private banking business; the ads feature portraits of casually dressed 20- and 30-somethings, with the slogan: "J.P. Morgan works for me."
"It's a dedicated effort to reach out to a much broader number of people than ever before," a J.P. Morgan spokeswoman said.
The change in J.P. Morgan's target audience may be more cosmetic than substantive, suggested Arnold Wechsler, chief executive officer of New York-based Wechsler Ross & Partners Inc., which provides marketing services to fund companies.
"The J.P. Morgan brand stands for ... ultra-high-net-worth banking and money management, and that remains true whether someone's wealth is inherited, built over years, or they strike it rich in an Internet scheme," Mr. Wechsler said.
J.P. Morgan is also launching a series of Internet ads this week to promote the online private bank service unveiled March 13. Advertising vice president Donna Manz said J.P. Morgan is placing ads with links to Morgan OnLine on financial sites including CNNfn, Bloomberg, and TheStreet.com.