Finance brands marketing during stock market declines –

In February, a Super Bowl ad for FTX equated investing in cryptocurrency with going to the moon. The commercial, which starred comedian Larry David as a pooh-pooher of history-altering inventions like the wheel, the toilet and space travel, posited that anyone dismissive of the crypto trend is missing out.

A little more than three months later, the crypto industry has come crashing back to earth along with the broader stock market, with the S&P 500 briefly brushing with bear market status last week.

The freefall means financial brands—from startup crypto offerings to established players such as Fidelity and J.P. Morgan—must recalibrate marketing approaches to offer assurances during a nervous time for investors, especially younger consumers who have not been through a prolonged rough stretch like this before.

Even once-reliable stocks such as Target are falling amid disappointing earnings reports and inflation fears, while the crypto market has lost nearly $2 trillion in value since the fall. 

“We’re just not headed to the moon right now—that kind of messaging isn’t going to work,” said Tim Calkins, a marketing professor at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. “If you go back to the Super Bowl and you look at what the financial firms were saying then and those messages just won’t work now—even in the span of a few months what seemed like relevant and important messages are just going to fall flat.”

The shift represents a marketing test for all financial firms, including established companies like Fidelity and newer brands like Robinhood, as well as cryptocurrency traders such as FTX and rival Coinbase. These brands are tasked with keeping worried investors as clients, even as their portfolio losses deepen. And in more of a balancing act, experts say it’s a time for marketers to focus on messages of reassurance and safety in a turbulent environment, yet they also need to encourage customers to continue to invest and not walk away.

“The environment is changing so quickly—one of the big challenges is from a branding perspective, you can’t change your message too dramatically,” said Calkins, noting that a company that has historically focused on big returns and financial risks cannot easily shift messaging to safety and prudent risk management. “Companies really have to think through their messaging and their positioning,” he added. “You need people to be trading, to be making financial moves but it’s hard to give people a reason to do that when everything is trending down.”

There is opportunity

Yet brands that get it right, by holding onto existing investors and gaining new customers amid market turbulence, could gain brand loyalists. A financial company that persuades an investor to switch accounts now has a captive customer with a low base to build from. And when stocks and other financial assets rebound, that could build rewards for the customer as well as a lifelong loyalty, Calkins said.

Brands are also marketing to a host of first-time investors, many of whom are young consumers who have yet to live through any market volatility like the dot com bubble bursting in the early 2000s or even remember the 2008 recession.

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“There are a lot of younger investors in their 20s, especially, who haven’t seen a downturn like this and think that investing is riskless, that things always go up,” said Russell Winer, William H. Joyce professor of marketing at NYU Stern. “Cryptocurrencies have tended to attract younger investors and they’re getting a bit of a lesson there.”

Indeed, crypto has taken a beating with no clear recovery in sight. That’s not stopping Coinbase, which made headlines during the Super Bowl for a bouncing QR code commercial, from making its case to compel customers to continue investing. In a new ad that broke last week, the brand recalled other moments in its 10-year existence when it heard criticism from naysayers, before turning to text that read, “Long live crypto.”

“Volatility is painful, and can be scary,” wrote Chief Marketing Officer Kate Rouch in a blog post. “Nobody likes to lose money in the short term — whether in crypto, or the stock market more broadly. That said, volatility is also natural for emerging technological breakthroughs like crypto.”

Read more: NFT market uncertainty—how brands and agencies are reacting 

Experts say that continuing to advertise, and reassure customers, is the right strategy. During the 2008 recession, many brands cut back their ad budgets. Those that continued advertising stayed top of mind with customers and “got a disproportionate bump—their share of voice went up,” said Winer. He advised messaging such as “We’re a solid brand, we’re going to be around, we’ve got your back,” saying “those kinds of things will reassure investors.”

The benefits of experience

As an established brand with centuries of history, J.P. Morgan Chase is focusing on its experience as it markets its brand during the current turmoil. The bank’s wealth management division began a campaign this month that cuts through the clutter. A 60-second anthem spot shows a woman trying to check into a hotel who ends up befuddled by all the constant chatter around her about crypto, the metaverse, inflation, blockchain, double-dip recession and more. As the babble reaches a fever pitch, she video-calls her own financial advisor. “J.P. Morgan Wealth Management knows the world is full of financial noise,” a voiceover says. “Our easy-to-use app and local advisors are here to help you figure out what’s right for your investments.”

The brand has been working on the campaign, which was created with Droga5, for several months, even before the recent stock slides, said Justin Garcia, brand marketing director at J.P. Morgan.

“This has been a year where you never really know what’s around the corner,” he said, noting that the recent conditions have been particularly trying for young investors. “As a more mature brand, we’re trying to bring forth a part of our offering—which is that expertise gained over centuries of helping investors navigate every type of market, every economic condition and bring that to the forefront to help them.”

The ads will appear on a mix of marketing channels, including online video, social media, addressable TV and out-of-home. Garcia said the company purposely showcased live advisors. Such an offering is an asset many robo-investing rivals do not have.

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Similarly, Fidelity has been striving to reassure its customers through its messaging. The company is providing a variety of tools, resources and educational content for investors to manage current market conditions, said Kathryn Condon, head of marketing channels and emerging platforms. She pointed to Fidelity’s “Viewpoints Inflation Hub,” a guide on the brand’s website that shows customers how to protect themselves against rising prices, as well as Fidelity’s “Market Sense” webinars that offer advice on navigating changing conditions. Fidelity is also posting on social channels such as TikTok, Instagram, Reddit and Twitter.

“Customers benefit from Fidelity’s strength and experience during market volatility,” Condon said, noting that Fidelity is trying to provide younger investors with relevant financial education through formats that are useful for them. Fidelity saw more than 640,000 retail accounts opened by investors under the age of 36 in the first quarter of this year, and average daily trades have been consistent in this group since Jan. 1.

As a newer brand, Acorns, a financial service that automatically invests spare change for customers, has the challenge of lacking history when it comes to downturns. But the company founded in 2012 is still trying to make its voice heard. Acorns last week rolled out what it’s calling its first “major ad campaign,” a push voiced by actor  Christopher Walken as the brand’s squirrel mascot. The “Squirrels Know Wealth” work is meant to contrast the “resilient and resourceful” squirrel against the “rise of get-rich-quick schemes,” according to a press release. By prudently “squirreling” away change and investing it, investors can invite big future savings, the campaign suggests.

“Every time you pay for something, they invest the spare change,” Walken says in the 30-second commercial, adding at the end, “That’s what it means to be growth-minded, to find every chance that you can for your money to grow.”

Acorns, which worked with production company Bob Industries, aired the video on its digital networks and social platforms as well as national broadcast and OTT.

Alluding to investing as a long-term activity is the way to go, according to NYU Stern’s Winer. “That’s a subtle way to say, ‘Try to ignore as much of the short-term noise as you can and think about long-term results.’”

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