Discount broker Ameritrade Inc. kicked off a $20 million advertising campaign this week in a bid to attract more customers to the world of deep- discount investing.
The campaign, featuring television, radio, print, and direct mail segments, is designed to tout the Omaha-based firm's move Monday to cut its on-line trading fees from $12 to $8 for market orders.
The so-called "8-bucks" campaign was developed by OgilvyOne Worldwide and will run until the end of December, said Michael J. Anderson, president of Ameritrade.
The television ads will run during "Monday Night Football," "Nightline," "NYPD Blue," and "Seinfeld." Print ads are appearing in publications such as The Wall Street Journal, Barron's, and USA Today.
In the TV spots, actors will portray investors showing "how easy it is to invest using Ameritrade," Mr. Anderson said. For example, one scenario shows a woman in a business suit who says: "I just picked up Harley for eight bucks."
The eight bucks refers to Ameritrade's on-line trading fee. The ads show in print how much Harley-Davidson stock actually costs.
Mr. Anderson said experience has taught him that some people are not aware that deep-discount brokerages exist. His firm, with its "no-frills" approach, differs from discount brokerages like San Francisco-based Charles Schwab & Co., Boston-based Fidelity Investments, and Palm Beach, Fla.-based Quick & Reilly Group.
Unlike Ameritrade, those shops have walk-in branch offices, as well as on-line trading capabilities, phone-in lines, and other ways to trade.
While Ameritrade does not have branches, it does allow investors to do business in a number of ways, including over the Internet, via telephone, and by fax, he said. Investors can open an account for a minimum of $2,000.
Mr. Anderson estimated that about 45 million people use full-service brokers, 12 million to 14 million use discount shops, and 1.5 million use deep discounters. "Out of the 45 million customers there are still a lot that frankly aren't aware of deep discounters," he said.
With its campaign, Ameritrade is seeking to attract investors who are comfortable with technology and "don't want a phone call from a broker."
Out of what Mr. Anderson estimated at 25 million people with access to the Internet, he said only about three million go on-line to manage their finances. "That should grow by about two million in the next year or two," he said.
Ameritrade was not alone in slashing its fees Monday. Discounters Fidelity and Quick & Reilly cut their on-line trading fees to $14.95 for market orders.
Quick & Reilly, which is being acquired by Boston-based Fleet Financial Group, had previously charged $26.75 for Internet trades on market orders of up to 1,000 shares. Its move essentially extends indefinitely a special offer the firm is making, a spokesman said.
Fidelity's fee, meanwhile, went from $25 to $14.95 for active traders on market orders of up to 1,000 shares.
Ameritrade set no restriction on its basic on-line rate though Fidelity and Quick & Reilly do. All three firms charge $5 more for limit orders.