Marketing financial markets: Schwab triumph


For a long time, financial services regarded marketing as infra dig, something you did (if you did it) while holding your nose.  But this is changing. 

A friend and former banker, Susan Abbott, wrote to say that Charles Schwab had always been ahead of the marketing game.  And indeed yesterday, I spotted an Schwab ad that read:

"’My house is worth a million’ is not a retirement plan"

Wonderful.  This demonstrates a detailed knowledge of the consumer.  My research tells me this is precisely the way many consumers think about their financial affairs.  The topic is so loaded with mystery and anxiety that if the consumer has a "short form" solution (like "my house is worth a million"), he/she will seize on this as their "plan."  And when there’s talk about a real estate bubble, well, a tremor runs through the consumer, but even this is not enough to make them seize the issue and put things right.

"My house" goes right at this issue.  It goes straight into the consumer.  It finds them where they live.  This is consumer centricity, that great objective of all marketing, so much praised, so rarely accomplished.  "My House" engages in that remarkable way that good research and creative can. 

Props go to Euro RSCG Worldwide-New York (especially Ron Berger and Michael Lee), and to the marketing team at Schwab, (and especially Rebecca Saeger).  It looks as if Schwab did the research.  Plainly Euro RSCG did the creative. 

I wonder if other players in financial services know how good this work is and far they must go to catch up.  As Schwab’s Glen Mathison puts it, "[Most financial services advertising is] filled with images of people on the beach or with their families, and it doesn’t stand out."  Indeed, most financial institutions are still the captives of the kind of thing the CSD industry was doing in the 1950s and early 1960s.  "Happy families" is the rough equivalent of Coke’s "fun in the sun" creative. 

This tells us how steep is the marketing mountain most must now climb. 

I leave for later discussion (or reader comment), the use of "Chuck" instead of Charles Schwab and the use of Waking Life animation in the TV spots.  I am on the fence about "Chuck."  I am  impressed with one of the Waking Life animations (the Asian guy) and a little creeped out by another (the execution for "woman on a chair lift").  Both are vivid, however, and return to memory with a power that "people sitting on the beach" cannot match.


Elliott, Stuart.  2005.  A Schwab Campaign Steeped in Personality.  New York Times.  September 27, 2005. 

French, Julie.  2005.  Campaign Close-Up: Charles Schwab. Sales and Marketing.  here.
(This is the source for the Mathison quote.)

McCracken, Grant. 2006. Marketing the Capital Markets.  This Blog Sits At…  February 17, 2006.  here.

2 thoughts on “Marketing financial markets: Schwab triumph

  1. Zeb

    I couldn’t agree more, the Charles Schwabb ‘Waking Life’ campaign is leaps and bounds ahead of the pack. As far as the choice to go with ‘Chuck’ instead of Charles, I like it. Chuck is your buddy from university, you’ve known him for years and he has a personal stake in making sure your finances are in order because if you go tits up its Chuck’s couch you’ll be crashing on.
    The obvious risk is that for those who don’t know Charles, Chuck might come off as a bit unreliable, not the guy you want to risk your future on. However, Charles Schwabb is obviously a well know commodity and so I think will only benefit from the friendly and familiar persona of ‘Chuck’. Then again, my retirement plan consists of some old hockey cards and the value tied up in my 1992 Volvo 240, so it’s entirely possible I don’t have a clue what I’m talking about.

  2. Ed Batista

    That animation falls right into Mori’s uncanny valley for me. The ads creep me out so profoundly I can barely stand to look at the screen. God, I hope they don’t catch on.

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