As the stock market continues to rise, so does advertising by financial services companies trying to build a brand name.
Brokerage firms ratcheted up their advertising spending by a hefty 34.1% during the first seven months of 1997, compared with the same period in 1996, according to Competitive Media Reporting, New York. Mutual fund companies have boosted ad spending by 22%.
And though the amount spent by banks actually slipped a touch-0.4%- during the seven months, many banks are more present than ever in U.S. living rooms during prime time.
With more of Americans' retirement and savings dollars tied up in thestock market, financial services companies of all stripes are vying to position themselves as versatile providers of financial solutions. For banks, the challenge is to convince consumers that they have more to offer than deposits.
"Banks are now getting into a full financial services arena and they have to tell people that they do this," said Cheryl Greene, a managing partner at Deutsch Inc., an ad agency in New York that handles the BankAmerica Corp. account. "Outside banking we forget how slowly news like that travels."
But they must also ensure they have a brand and not just a name, Ms. Greene said. Citibank just moved its account over to Young & Rubicam in a bid to build such a corporate identity, she noted.
As a group, commercial banks spent $465.29 million on ads through the end of July, compared with $301 million forked over by brokers during the same period.
The figures are based on the ad dollars spent by 50 banks and 25 brokerage firms to buy advertising time and space on television, radio, print, and outdoor ads.
Investment-oriented advertising is just one piece of banks' total ad spending. But some of the most prominent campaigns this year-including current ads by San Francisco-based BankAmerica Corp. and Charlotte, N.C.- based First Union Corp.-emphasize their growth from providers of transactional services to fully rounded financial services institutions.
BankAmerica, for instance, recently launched a campaign that features ads showing how the bank can help consumers prepare for "life events, such as getting married or having a baby," a spokesman said. Another component of the campaign, which focuses on the breadth of the bank's services, emphasizes corporate accounts.
BankAmerica declined to comment on the cost of the campaign, which includes spots aired during network television shows. But according to Competitive Media, the bank was the top spender in the banking community in 1996, laying out $48.96 million to boost its image. It was third in the first seven months of this year, at $16.54 million.
Nonbanking firms are taking a similar tack. Boston-based Fidelity Investments, for instance, just launched a campaign touting the firm's corporate identity, rather than specific services.
"We've had campaigns that have highlighted specific products before, but this is the first campaign that showcases the company as a whole," said a Fidelity spokesman.
"What's happening in financial services is a number of the bigger players are trying to develop a brand much like Coca-Cola," said Charles B. Wendel, president of New York-based Financial Institutions Consulting. Merrill Lynch & Co., Citibank, and Fidelity have already been pretty successful, and "Chase Manhattan, Wells Fargo, and Bank of America are really focusing in on it," he noted.
But with banks and brokerages now peppering investors with commercials up to four times during one network show, some industry observers are skeptical about the real prospects for gathering new dollars.
"After a point it reaches a certain period of saturation," said Michael Sears, an equity analyst who tracks the brokerage business for Lehman Brothers. "Each dollar spent becomes less effective," he added. But the current bull market is giving institutions peddling financial products more money to play with, he noted.
Some banks-among them, First Union and Fleet Financial Group-are usingimage advertising to help them increase their profile in new markets.
The acquisitive First Union Corp., for instance, is more than doubling its ad spending this year, said Jim Garrity, a senior vice president and director of advertising for the bank.
The bank-which has bought 74 institutions in the last 10 years-plans to spend a whopping $85 million this year on touting its image, compared with the $40 million it spent all last year, he said. Its campaign is being handled by San Francisco ad agency Hal Riney & Partners.
"Some of the markets we've only existed in for a couple of years," said Mr. Garrity. "What you find there is very low awareness of First Union in New York, Connecticut, New Jersey as opposed to the Carolinas, Florida, or Georgia, where we've had a presence for years."
The bank is also trying to get its customers to change their impression of what the bank does, Mr. Garrity said. "The new message is we're a lot more than a bank. We're virtually every financial service you might need," he noted.
Boston-based Fleet has also recently stepped up its ad effort in the New York and New Jersey areas, reflecting the bank's expansion in those states.
The bank is spending roughly $10 million on its current campaign in New York and New Jersey, said Betsy Richardson, a senior vice president in corporate marketing at Fleet. According to Competitive Media, Fleet spent $24.9 million nationally on television, radio, and print advertising in all of 1996.
For its current effort in New York and New Jersey, some dollars are being spent on advertising in such nontraditional publications as the Village Voice, as well as a number of Spanish and Asian publications, Ms. Richardson said. Fleet is also running aggressive television ads during hit television shows such as "NYPD Blue," she noted.
Ms. Richardson said that the bank's major concern is to get across its ability to provide financial solutions.
"In a college planning ad, we might talk about home equity loans, student loans, life insurance," she explained. On the business side the bank touts services like PC banking, linked statements, and money market accounts, she added.
Traditionally aggressive advertiser Chase Manhattan Corp. last month launched at TV campaign focusing on its proprietary mutual funds. It spent $21.22 million on advertising through July, according to Competitive Media.
But creating an image may prove more difficult for banks than for brokerages, said Mr. Wendel of Financial Institutions Consulting. "By their very nature the nonbanks tend to be more focused than the banks. If you look at a Fidelity, it's about investments," Mr. Wendel said. "Banks try to be all things to all people" and that makes image-building harder, he observed.
Among brokerage firms, the three big spenders through July were FMR Corp., Charles Schwab & Co., and Merrill Lynch & Co.
FMR, the parent of Fidelity Investments, was the top spender for all of last year, shelling out $61.33 million on ads. Through July of this year it had spent $36.92 million, putting it in third place.
Merrill Lynch was second last year, at $60.69 million, and in the first seven months of 1997, at $38.90 million. A spokesman for the wirehouse declined to discuss advertising spending.
In first place this year was Schwab, at $44.76 million for the seven months. The San Francisco-based discount heavyweight spent $49.17 million in all of last year, according to Competitive Media. "We've always been aggressive advertisers. We were one of the first financial services firms to discover the power of cable TV," said a spokesman.
"Yes, we spend on advertising, but you'll see that it pays dividends," he added, noting that at the end of the third quarter the firm had $345 billion in client assets.