LendingTree Inc. is betting another $15 million that skeptics about home lenders’ pushing their brands are wrong.

That is what the online loan exchange will spend on a two-commercial television campaign that started Thursday.

Unlike previous ads in the two-year branding campaign, all of which were for mortgages, these are aimed at home equity borrowers. The new spots continue the comic theme of their predecessors, in which mortgage borrowers wait calmly as a swarm of frenetic bankers compete for their business.

The Charlotte, N.C., company has spent more than $40 million on branding in previous efforts. But many observers have expressed skepticism about such spending in the home loan market.

Since most consumers take out mortgages and other home-related loans so infrequently, the critics say, and since the products are impossible to differentiate, trying to raise consumer awareness of the brand is a waste of money.

LendingTree has yet to show a profit, and it has reported losses of over $70 million since going public in February of last year. However, company officials say the marketing efforts have been fruitful and will help the company generate its first profit during the first quarter of next year.

Borrowers who submit an application for mortgage, home equity, credit card, auto, and other personal loans through LendingTree and can receive offers from as many as four different lenders.

Bob Harris, the senior vice president of marketing at LendingTree, said the previous ads succeeded in conveying the idea of “empowering the consumer” but left out LendingTree’s nonmortgage products.

“Home equity is a natural extension” of the mortgage campaign, he said. The company ultimately plans to expand the ad focus to include all its products, he said.

The home equity ads, one called “Bank Alarm” and the other “Leader board,” focus on bankers competing for consumers’ business, “so those fundamentals on the brand side stay the same,” Mr. Harris said. The company will also run radio spots on home equity to support the television campaign, he said.

The “Bank Alarm” spot shows droves of bankers sliding down fire poles and running toward one couple’s house. “Leader Board” depicts a man walking from his bedroom to his living room, which is packed with bankers calculating loan rates, and eyeing a golf-tournament-like scoreboard that shows different banks’ rates.

Mr. Harris said economic and interest rate conditions make this a good time to market home equity loans. The environment “is right, because we have low interest rates, and home equity is a natural way to capitalize on that,” he said. In addition, the home equity loan is “just a great product for LendingTree and the Internet,” he said, “because it’s a relatively simple process for consumers and lenders.”

Ironically, the complexity of the mortgage process has been cited as the main reason that consumers have not embraced the Internet as a source for their home purchase loans — at least so far. However, several industry sources have said that home equity loans and refinancing are made for the Internet,.

The money LendingTree has thrown into advertising and marketing has all been well-spent, Mr. Harris said. The company is now generating “incremental revenue” for each advertising dollar it spends, he said.

“These home equity ads will become a part of our overall rotation,” he said. “We’ll maintain a spending level consistent with what we’ve been spending year to date, and as we move into year 2002 you won’t see significant increases; we’re reaching our target.”

Like LendingTree’s mortgage ads, the new home equity ads air in 15- and 30-second versions on cable television stations, Mr. Harris said.


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