Some seemingly innocuous television ads from the Fannie Mae Foundation, timed to the big spring homebuying season, are making mortgage executives uncomfortable.
"A lot of our members take exception to what appears to be an outreach to consumers without any reference to the lender," said Paul S. Reid, executive vice president of the Mortgage Bankers Association.
"We want the lender to be mentioned more up-front," Mr. Reid said, adding that he was "encouraged" by discussions he has had recently with Fannie Mae.
The Fannie Mae Foundation's newest ad, first broadcast March 29, opens with a 34-year resident of the King neighborhood in Portland, Ore., trumpeting a big turnaround there.
"Block by block, they try to fix up the houses," the elderly man says in the spot. "And if two people on one block fix up their home, then pretty soon the pressure comes to the other people: 'We've got to do something about our house.'"
This commercial and others the foundation has created all carry a toll- free number offering the viewer a guide to homeownership.
The primary message of the ads is that homeownership is possible if the prospective buyer has the right information, said John Buckley, senior vice president for communications.
The secondary, supporting theme, he said, is that homeownership is good for society and families-a message crafted to entice people into homeownership.
Mr. Buckley said lenders should not be afraid of the commercials. They are "a public service educational effort meant to educate potential homebuyers about what they need to do to become a homebuyer," he said.
He said nearly seven million people have been sent homebuying materials after responding to broadcast and print ads since the campaign was begun in 1993.
Fannie Mae is "making more of an effort to increase their brand awareness with the end customer," said Richard Beidl, an analyst at the Tower Group in Needham, Mass.
The company, he said, is trying to get the customer to go to a broker or lender to get a "Fannie Mae loan, rather than just saying, 'I want a 30- year, fixed-rate loan.'"
Fannie Mae's campaign is "about public service," Mr. Buckley said. "It's not about Fannie Mae becoming a direct-to-consumer marketing company."
Even so, Mr. Beidl said, "a lot of lenders definitely see customers more aware of what Fannie Mae is-Fannie Mae's role in the homebuying process."
He said this is especially true of Fannie's programs designed for those in the lower-middle- and lower-income brackets. These people do not have 5% to 10% to put down on a house and are candidates for low-down-payment programs.
The foundation's spots are aired in the spring and fall, typically for eight weeks. They run on national cable and broadcast networks in English, and in Spanish on some Spanish-language outlets. The foundation has also run ads or infomercials on Black Entertainment Television to target African-Americans. Last year, Fannie Mae and its foundation spent more than $31.8 million in 1998 on television, according to Competitive Media Reporting.