As if Jim Lebenthal weren't larger than life already, now morning television viewers in the New York City region are waking up to a 110-story version of the municipal bond industry's most recognized spokesman.
"I'm Jim Lebenthal," the colossus-sized chairman of Lebenthal & Co. tells viewers in his new and campaign, as he steps gingerly from behind the World Trade Center's twin peaks. "Love my towers, love my bonds."
The new campaign, which is airing this month during morning news shows on the three major networks' affiliates and Fox Television, attempts to reach an audience that might be ripe for tax-free bonds but still does not understand what the industry is all about, Mr. Lebenthal said.
"I have a feeling that most of the communicating I've done on the virtue of bonds has been the preacher talking to the choir," he said. "There is a tremendous body of people who might love to buy municipal bonds, if they only knew what the hell I was talking about."
The new 30-second ad opens with Maria Faiella, a supervisor of sales support at Lebenthal, in a convincing cameo as the passing businesswoman. Sweeping visions of the trade center follow, as awestruck tourists crane their necks and shade their eyes to catch a glimpse.
"You see the twin towers of the World Trade Center," Mr. Lebenthal's voice-over says. "I see two giant economic pumps built by the taxfree bonds I sell."
The jazz rhythm accompanying the ad was composed by a group of street musicians calling themselves Masterpeace, which caught Mr. Lebenthal's attention during a recent performance at Grand Central Station.
This is not a commercial designed to make you call the shop and buy a block of bonds right then and there, Mr. Lebenthal explained. Rather, the imagery and slogan attempt to transfer the public's positive feelings about the World Trade Center back to the securities that financed it.
The harder sell will come in the next campaign, in which Mr. Lebenthal tentatively plans to carry his new slogan into other sectors of the industry.
While television technology can easily create a skyscraper version of a municipal bond salesman, the future spots might pose more of a challenge.
"Love my dump, love my bonds," for example, is already on the drawing boards. And "Love my sewer, love my bonds" is under consideration as well.
An imagery problem comes to mind immediately.
But the industry's image problem in recent months is actually a target of the ads. Mr. Lebenthal said many clients are becoming preoccupied with situations like Bridgeport, Philadelphia, and New York -- three cities whose widely publicized fiscal failures are making investors wary of municipal bonds.
The ads will try to redirect that focus to the positive accomplishments of the industry.
Mr. Lebenthal is one of the few industry leaders to use advertisements aimed at the general public. He has offered up a steady stream of radio, print, and television commercials in recent years, including last year's "Bond of the Day" campaign.