February 22, 2012

Top 7 TV Advertising Slogans by Financial Firms

A catchy slogan can be memorable replayed, outliving even the firm it represents

John Houseman in 1979 from the famous Smith Barney ad campaign. John Houseman in 1979 from the famous Smith Barney ad campaign.

When a catchy slogan as part of broad marketing campaign is pushed in a properly made TV commercial, a company can get a distinct edge on its competitors. There are many examples of the right turn of phrase giving financial firms an edge. Then there are those slogans that transcend the company itself and soar, or slink depending on your view of the slogan, into the public lexicon.

Of course, sometimes the glow is fleeting and later events make the words ring hollow. “When E.F. Hutton talks, people listen” certainly was all the rage in the 1970s. But, alas, the firm flamed out and the name has disappeared from the financial lexicon.

Other slogans seem to last, like Prudential’s “get a piece of the rock.” That ancient, solid rock is still there and so is the company.

Whether the firms have staying power or fall by the wayside, the slogans remain, forever remembered on the Internet. Here are AdvisorOne's favorite advertising slogans for financial firms:


1. E.F. Hutton: “When E.F. Hutton talks, people listen”

In the 1970s, no advertising slogan resonated more than E.F. Hutton’s boastful claim. In TV commercials a group of people at a party or even in Yankee Stadium would go silent when a broker started to dispense advice. 

The firm founded in 1904 by Edward Francis Hutton, seemed to be the face of Wall Street to the American public in the 1970s and ’80s. Under the leadership of Robert M. Fomon, Hutton maintained its independence until trouble hit in the form of scandal. By employing a form of check kiting, the company inflated its cash flow. The scheme was uncovered and a fine of $2 million was paid. Then a second scandal, involving a Rhode Island office’s dealings with the mob, ended the days when investors would listen. Soon enough the firm was bought and eventually ended up a part of Citigroup. 

The ad exec who coined the iconic slogan, Mitchell J. Epstein, never heard the scandals coming.


2. Charles Schwab: Talk to Chuck

Maybe it shouldn’t be surprising that the discount brokerage adopted a slogan that plays on its common-man roots. That's the route that Charles Schwab Corp. took in 2005. The ad campaign built around the slogan, developed with Euro RSCG Worldwide-New York, famously used real actors to film TV commercials that were then transformed into animation using a digital process.

Of course, catchy slogans can cause problems when trouble strikes a brokerage. In this case, news of Schwab paying $119 million in fines and restitution over misdeeds involving its YieldPlus Fund, spurred The Wall Street Journal in 2011 to wonder in a headline: “Talk to Chuck? Better Bring Your Galoshes.” The story that accompanied the headline called Schwab’s note to investors about the matter a “snow job.”

Talk to Chuck indeed.


3. American Express: “Don’t leave home without it”

American Express has a long and storied history, tracing its beginnings to an 1850 express mail business.

Known for its charge cards (often the first one a college grad carries), its traveler’s checks and customer service, perhaps nothing sticks more in the mind than the iconic slogan AmEx employed in the 1970s-80s. Actor Karl Malden, who at the time played a cop in “Streets of San Francisco,” gave an air of security to the catchphrase when it debuted in 1973.

After Malden left the campaign, a series of celebrities, including Mel Blanc, the voice of Bugs Bunny, intoned the famous words. Retired for a time, the slogan devised by ad man David Ogilvy was revived in the last decade to advertise the American Express Travelers Check Card. 

 


4. AIG: “We know money”

Just for sheer irony this is one of our favorites. AIG, the financial giant that was deemed too big to fail, once vouched “we know money.” And for years, who could doubt it? The company was the world’s biggest insurer and its ads were hard to miss.

Somehow, though, the company got off track. A Google search finds ridicule as far back as 2006 when the company, deemed “the new Enron,” paid $1.6 billion to settle fraud and claims abuse charges.

Of course, the big fall came in 2008 when AIG faced a liquidity crisis that required a government bailout to the tune of $85 billion. Maurice Greenberg, then the CEO of the insurer, was quoted as saying he was bewildered by how things got out of control.

He might have known money, but he was in the dark about managing it.


5. Prudential: “Get a Piece of the Rock”

Prudential started using a drawing of the Rock of Gibraltar in its logo as far back as the 1890s. The slogan was coined by ad men Ted Bates Worldwide in 1970.

The slogan has evidently assured investors of the company’s solidity as it has evolved from a mutual insurance firm to one that offers mutual funds and pension and other retirement-related products. Prudential now counts hundreds of subsidiaries under its name and holds more than $2 trillion in life insurance policies. 


6. Smith Barney: Smith Barney makes money the old-fashioned way ... we earn it

This slogan was famously intoned by John Houseman, whose voice gave the pitch just the right combination of sophistication and arrogance. The New York Times says the actor uttered the phrase in 18 TV commercials from 1979-86.

The firm’s slogan, despite a relatively brief life (it was formed by a merger of two brokerages in 1938) brought it enough attention that The Wall Street Journal felt compelled to write an obituary for the firm last March when parent company Morgan Stanley said it was considering dropping the name.

The obituary proved premature as the name survives, a reminder of a slogan that promised investors profits, the old-fashioned way.


7. Merrill Lynch: “Bullish on America”

The perfect combination of corporate rebranding with a nod to Wall Street nomenclature led ad man Bruce Silverman to create the slogan in the 1970s.

The slogan played off the firm’s new logo that included a bull, and Merrill was nicknamed the "thundering herd." And it had staying power. When the market crashed in 1987, CEO William Schreyer famously told TV viewers “We’re still bullish on America.”

Of course, with the upheaval that started in 2008, Merrill Lynch fell apart and was snapped up by Bank of America. Still, it boasts of being the world’s largest brokerage with 15,000 advisors and $2.2 trillion assets under management.

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