Brooke’s Note: If you haven’t seen the advertisements created for the CFP, we have embedded the YouTube segment halfway down the story.

The Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards is launching what is probably the largest public-facing ad campaign by a financial planning organization on Monday – and it’s taking a risk to stand out in the crowded financial services marketplace.

The CFP Board shared the creative elements of the campaign with more than 1,100 CFP holders today (Thursday) in a webinar. The four-year $36 million campaign, which was funded by a major fee increase that angered some certificant holders, appears online, on TV and in print. CFP holders can download the advertising materials at www.cfp.net/toolkit and use them in their own practices.

The ads, which are distinctive animated graphics that will appear in outlets like Kiplingers, Fox News, CNN, Barron’s, AOL, Forbes and Smart Money and which are aimed at consumers with $100,000 to $1 million in investable assets, are a big departure from the rest of the consumer advertising in financial services.

No vineyards here

From Charles Schwab to Merrill Lynch, companies tend to direct their advertising at Baby Boomers who respond to images of achievement: i.e., the standard silver-haired, well-dressed couple on the beach.

“It’s about 'We’ll help you get your vineyard … or in the case of Schwab, it’s a lighter: a vineyard, are you kidding me?’ In both cases, they’re relying on the iconic imagery of achievement for response,” said Tim Robinson, managing director of CoreBrands, a New York City-based full-service branding agency.

Tom Crowder, a former agency and Verizon advertising executive who became the CFP Board’s managing director, marketing and business development, said he would have considered the ad a failure if it had included that same-old couple on the beach at sunset.

“We can’t afford to fade into that kind of background,” said Crowder, who said he left the big-ad-budget world because he was “at the age where I was looking to do something more philanthropic.”

In one ad, the words Investments, Budget, Insurance, Estate Planning wrestle for control of an orange ring, overseen by two eyes on a dark background. In another, a questioner asks if an advisor is more interested in making money for himself – or for the client.

The CFP Board’s consumer research showed that people responded most to messages about comprehensive evaluations and planning focus, with ethics a secondary consideration, Crowder said.

Inspirations, including Wicked

They campaign’s style was inspired by the famous Wicked Broadway poster, the introduction to Mad Men and early iPod campaigns that featured silouhetted figures on colored backgrounds, he said.

The CFP Board did consumer testing of the campaign, and it did well, Crowder said.

CoreBrands’ Robinson said deviating from the norm in financial services, can be risk, but “they may be the first mover,” he said.

The campaign is a huge investment for the CFP Board. CEO Kevin Keller said the organization decided to do it because its certificants named public awareness of the market as the top priority. Yet, it faces significant challenges from the get-go.

For one thing, though it’s big in the financial planning world, it’s small in the financial services world, where companies routinely spend tens of millions on advertising a year. Merrill Lynch just last week announced the launch of a $20 million, 9-month campaign for wealth management.

“It’s share of voice,” said Rudy Adolf, CEO of Focus Financial Partners, LLC, formerly a top marketing executive at American Express. He believes that because of the costs of competing against the wirehouse budgets, it would be well-nigh impossible to design a campaign that would effectively market independent advisors.

Even Schwab, a trendsetter when it comes to consumer advertising, says that as a custodian it focuses on helping advisors market themselves effectively to consumers.

“Our business consulting offer includes tools, tips and workshops on this very topic. Increasing consumer awareness of RIAs and the services they
provide is also a core objective of our public relations program, which includes sharing the insights and views of our clients with the national media as a way to help educate the general public about independent advisors,” said Lindsay Tiles, director of corporate public relations.

The CFP Board has an especially difficult row to hoe because it is raising awareness of the CFP mark. Whereas a Schwab (as a brokerage) or a Merrill has a fairly clear value proposition – work with us and you will make more money, Robinson said, the CFP Board needs to make a clear case for why working with a CFP holder helps.