Economic Woes Force Firms to Rethink Messages
New Ad Spots Seek to Allay Fears Amid Current Crisis
By SUZANNE VRANICA and STEPHANIE KANG
Wall Street's meltdown has left Madison Avenue scrambling to amend ad messages in hopes of calming investor fears -- and, in some cases, to seize on the drama to win new business.
Monday, Oppenheimer Funds is kicking off a $20 million ad effort. But last week's financial-market crisis threw a monkey wrench into the firm's plans. While the campaign's theme -- highlighting the company's ability to help customers make sense of the market -- jibed with the current upheaval, Oppenheimer decided to delay two of the TV ads until the markets settle down.
The spot Oppenheimer is going with features a woman on an escalator. "At Oppenheimer, we follow proven principles like investing for the long term so you can ride out the market's ups and downs," says a voice-over.
The two ads that are being pushed back for now are a spot that promotes retirement and another that is largely about asset allocation and balancing risk and reward. Those two ads are "more about taking proactive steps to adjust a portfolio and make an investment decision, and I think at this point we need to wait a few weeks," says Bruce Dunbar, director of corporate communications at Oppenheimer. Right now, Mr. Dunbar says, "people will be thinking about how they are going to readjust in the short term, versus thinking about long term."
Oppenheimer wasn't alone in having to do some last-minute rejiggering of ads. About two weeks ago, insurance giant Zurich Financial Services Group began thinking of how the economic environment might affect its marketing message, particularly a new $300 million global campaign also kicking off Monday. The ads are running in about 140 countries.
While Zurich's ad effort always intended to focus on how to better help consumers with insurance, Arun Sinha, Zurich's chief marketing officer, wanted to directly address the recent economic turmoil. The company went through its entire campaign, including 130 print ads and 53 different versions of a TV spot looking for appropriate spots. It was too late to change the TV ads, but Mr. Sinha decided to kick off the campaign with new print ads in key markets like the U.S., the U.K., Germany and Italy.
He says he gave his ad agency 24 hours to come up with a new print ad that would reassure consumers about the current crisis. The new ads, crafted by Publicis, say the company is "here to give you real help in an uncertain world, backed by the financial strength and stability of the Zurich American Insurance Company...It's help that's here now." The ads will run in newspapers like The Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times.
The original print campaign talked about how Zurich can solve specific problems, like getting a car repaired quickly after an accident.
Some companies have worked quickly to turn the trouble into a business opportunity. The Wall Street Journal crafted an ad, which ran last week, that pushes subscriptions.
It's not just revamping the creative that is keeping ad agencies busy in the crisis. Havas's Euro RSCG is "fielding round-the-clock research" to figure out how consumers are feeling, says Andrew Benett, co-president of Euro's New York arm. The firm works on behalf of several financial companies, such as Charles Schwab and Oppenheimer.
Madison Avenue ad executives say that while some companies will be quick to jump in to reassure consumers and investors, it isn't a strategy for everyone. Some firms, they say, will be leery about telling the public that things are OK, just in case they eventually become engulfed in the downward slide.
So far, there hasn't been a rash of companies pulling ads entirely off the air. While American International Group pulled some corporate ads last week, others remain committed to riding out the storm. Mr. Sinha says that Zurich never considered pulling back ads and that it is as important as ever to show consumers that the company is "strong and that we are here for them."