June 15, 2012

Merrill’s Latest Ads: The Bull Is Back

Bank of America-Merrill Lynch aims to boost its image as a source of strength during unstable times

Merrill Lynch is running new ads during the NBA Finals, U.S. Open golf championship and other sports events this summer and early fall to strengthen its historic brand, the company says. Experts say the strategy makes sense, especially given the continued market volatility.

The ads feature a live bull and aim to expand Merrill’s “Power of the Right Advisor” message, which was launched a year ago.

Justine Metz“It’s about reinforcing the idea that advisors are the linchpin of the business, as are well-managed client relationships, and that our advisors and clients stay with each other through thick and thin,” said Justine Metz (right), head of marketing for Bank of America (BAC) Global Wealth & Investment Management, in an interview with AdvisorOne.

“With market volatility, of course, we’ve wanted to be as supportive as possible and to get as much information as possible to clients,” Metz said.

Some Merrill Lynch ads can be heard or seen on Bloomberg, radio stations, Bank of America ATMs, and at the home parks of the Chicago Cubs, New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants.

"A solid brand name is an important part of the wirehouse value proposition for advisors,” said executive-search consultant Mark Elzweig, in an interview. “Merrill Lynch advisors will likely welcome this new advertising campaign, and it will help the firm in its recruiting efforts, as well."

Bank of America-Merrill Lynch says that the ad campaign is designed to target both women and men who are sports fans. “We’re doing this based on existing and potential client feedback,” Metz said. “Especially with respect to golf and tennis, our clients do this for leisure, and those who are small-business owners are also very engaged around these activities, too. This is why we want to be there.”

Along with other wirehouses, there’s some room for Merrill to boost its image, according to the J.D. Power and Associates 2012 U.S. Full Service Investor Satisfaction Study, released in May: Only UBS topped the industry-average score of 775.

“Sure it's smart to revive the symbol of the well-known Merrill Lynch bull,” Elweig said. “It's a symbol of strength, stability and hard work. In ancient cultures, the bull was a fertility symbol, so it can be used now to conjure up images of multiplying a client's money.”

This generally seems to be what the Bank of America-Merrill management had in mind.

“Another message of the ads is that we can work with you to navigate through this challenging time, get you the solutions you need and give you what you need—it’s about the strength and stability of the brand,” said Metz.

“Advisors are jazzed,” she added. “With Bank of America, our advisors can do more for clients, offer more solutions and share more ways to solve financial needs.”

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