As the American International Group began to crumble recently, marketing executives at a large competitor, New York Life Insurance Co huddled in a series of meetings. They already had an advertising campaign running, but they sensed an opportunity to capitalise on the fast-changing conditions of their industry.
New York Life dispatched their agency, the New York office of Taxi, to create ads that would play up the reliability of New York Life. “At a time when well-known brands have gone by the wayside, we want to distinguish New York Life from the public companies and others that have had such difficulty,” said William Werfelman, first vice-president at New York Life. “It’s now a matter of quickly developing creative” to react to the market shifts, he added. New York Life is one of several financial advertisers seeking to take advantage of the current economic turmoil. But the uncertainties spawned by the unprecedented events—the collapse of Lehman Bros; the rescues of AIG, Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae; the proposed acquisition of Merrill Lynch by Bank of America—are raising flags of caution on Madison Avenue as executives worry that no amount of advertising may reassure an anxious public.
“In the last couple of weeks, you could smell the fear in New York,” said Martin Sorrell, chief executive at the WPP Group. “The scale and the speed of all that have shaken people’s confidence,” he added, and it could affect attitudes “for the rest of the year going into next year.” The biggest challenge, executives say, is trying to keep up with the stunning economic and financial events and the resulting mood swings. All that makes it difficult to determine how to persuade shoppers to open their wallets. “Right now, there are nothing but question marks,” said David Sklaver, president at KSL Media, a media planning and buying agency. “Every time you think all the shoes have dropped on Wall Street, another one drops,” he added.
For some, that is also the case in the short term. For example, AIG decided to discontinue its brand and corporate ads, which carry the theme “The strength to be there”—a message clearly thrown into question by the federal government’s bailout of the insurer. David Haigh, chief executive at Brand Finance, a brand consulting company said, “You want to know you’re with a bank that’s not going to go bust on you.”
—NY Times / Stuart Elliott & Stephanie Clifford
6 months ago