Sam Waterston Will Get You Through

The markets continued their seesawing last week, surging more than 900 points one day after weeks of net losses. Surely, most people will wait out all this uncertainty, right? Actually, no. TD Ameritrade, a brand best known for its ads featuring Sam Waterston, claims to have seen a surge of new customers since the collapse of Bear Stearns and the government bank bailouts last month. Now, to capitalize on the renewed interest in the market, the brand has launched ads aimed at investors or would-be investors looking for help. “There’s never been a better time for a second opinion,” reads one such print ad that hit last week. That proactive messaging comes after some proactive spending. The company spent $88 million on U.S. measured media through August, per TNS, a $3 million jump over the same period in 2007. Laurine Garrity, svp and CMO of TD Ameritrade, last week discussed how the brand sees new opportunities in this market.

Brandweek: Your new ads address the financial crisis directly. Why take this approach?
Laurine Garrity: We took this approach really because we had begun to see a higher-than-average influx of new account volume from investors who were really looking for an alternative, whether it’s a full-commission broker or a bank. We also have an online channel of prospects we talk to on a regular basis and we were hearing from them that they were reappraising their investment portfolios. Some were looking for guidance, some were looking for people to run their investment ideas by. And we felt that there was an opportunity for us to highlight the tools we offer to investors, so that’s really what spurred us to do this.

BW: You saw a higher-than-average influx of new accounts? I would think you’d see people pulling out and maybe wait for things to get better . . .
LG: What we’re seeing is what they call in the industry ‘money in motion.’ We’re seeing people saying, ‘You know what, maybe I can find a better option.’ Whenever you have a crisis or change in the market environment, it causes people to stop and reappraise what they’re doing.

BW: Why not do ads back in September?
LG: We had advertising that was running at the time, but we really saw a sustained increase in October. We thought that showed a need out there that we could meet. That’s why we brought the campaign out.

BW: Obviously, you’re very happy with Sam Waterston as a spokesman. He’s best known for playing a lawyer on TV and most people have a low opinion of lawyers, so how does he instill trust?
LG:  We feel he comes across with a lot of credibility. He has a very direct, straightforward style that people appreciate and he appeals, based on the research we’ve done, both to long-term investors and to traders because I think his character [on Law and Order] comes across as an advocate as a lawyer. He is out there representing the people and as a result of that he has really strong credibility, which he imbues in our brand.

BW: Do you think the bailout has colored consumers’ perception of financial services brands. Are you seeing more of a pushback on the trust issue?
LG: I think it’s led them to reappraise their plans and their financial relationships. I certainly think that it has raised a sense of skepticism and people are really scrutinizing their financial services provider at this point in time. If you can get in front of them and come across as a trusted brand to help them through this volatility, they’ll respect you.

BW:  Earlier this year, your CEO, Joe Moglia, pegged the company’s customer acquisition cost at $248. Is that the norm for this industry?
LG: I don’t know about the industry, but the norm for us is to come in somewhere in that $250 to $350 range.