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“Never stop testing, and your advertising will never stop improving”


When ad man Ogilvy wasn’t busy plotting Guinness’ Transatlantic course for success, cultivating Rolls Royce’s image as a luxury car or putting American Express on the map, he offered the odd pearl of wisdom. This one particularly resonates: “Advertising people who ignore research are as dangerous as generals who ignore decodes of enemy signals.”

A slight exaggeration perhaps, but an important word of caution to marketing departments across industries – not least in financial services.

Since its inception, Research in Finance has tracked advertising and editorial sentiment for the top 50 asset management companies in the UK. Our RiF Tracker sheds light on the names and sectors currently in vogue across print trade titles and – now it is approaching its third birthday – trends over time.

With all the market turmoil of January, 2015 already seems quite distant. Casting an eye back over the year, general brand, Mixed Investment 20-60% Shares, UK All Companies, ETFs and Targeted Absolute Return were the investment categories attracting the highest ad spend across print trade titles in 2015.

Please click of the charts to expand.

RiF Tracker – Advertising – 2015 Full Year

RiF Tracker - Advertising - 2015 Full Year

This chart focuses on advertising only, showing the volume of ads for the whole of 2015 by investment category. The RiF Tracker also distinguishes between advertising in generalist trade publications (orange bars) and discretionary-specific publications (blue bars).

We continue to question whether performance one year has any bearing on marketing priorities the next. To this end, we ranked IA sectors’ 2014 performance using data provided by FE and plotted this against sectors’ respective rankings in RiF’s advertising tracking for 2015. Conscious of over-complicating, our methodology gave investment returns %s and precise numbers of ads a wide berth.

Performance in 2014 vs advertising in 2015

performance vs advertising

The resulting chart gives a good deal of food for thought. Roughly speaking, the IA sectors sitting near the blue line received a volume of trade advertising proportionate to overall performance the previous year. Conversely, Global Emerging Markets funds appear to have been heavily advertised while the Asia Pacific, North America, £ Corporate Bond and Property sectors have potentially been light on advertising.

Should asset managers have been more led by 2014 performance in their marketing efforts for 2015? Arguably, no.

For one, performance varies from one year to the next. Europe ex UK and Japan funds were hot stuff in 2015, but not in 2014. It’s tricky to deduce which sectors will be strong 6-12 months on.

Another argument for weak correlation between advertising and performance is that if a fund is flying, it doesn’t need as much advertising to attract investment.

Perhaps an asset manager with a top-performing fund in a flagging sector felt it prudent to promote the product, able to highlight it as a cut above the rest.

Looking at individual sectors, absolute return funds do not aim for double-digit investment returns and when they do achieve this, it can be a cause for concern – a sign that the fund may have deviated from its risk mandate. Property funds often have liquidity constraints and therefore aren’t looking for a gush of inflows to break the dam.

As we often find, the correlation between one thing and another isn’t as simple as it first seems. Marketeers ‘trying to make sense of it all’ have a pretty big challenge on their hands in both drumming up and responding to demand for investment products. I’ll sign off with a final piece of advice from Ogilvy to these individuals: “Never stop testing, and your advertising will never stop improving.”


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