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Selling pet rats during the London Plague: How to market a discount brokerage after the Wall Street mess

January 6, 2010 | 10:06 am
In my Tuesday advertising column, I ran a critical comb through the hair of ING Direct USA ShareBuilder's new ad. ShareBuilder targets young buy-and-hold investors, primarily by letting clients buy fractional shares and by allowing them to transfer funds in and out of their ING Direct savings accounts. As I said, the ad bull’s-eyes the target demo, the creative is appealing, and the service is cheap and useful.

But how do you persuade prospective clients -- outsiders, not insiders -- to trust Wall Street again? Isn’t this the worst possible climate to recruit new investors?

Alternatively, does the timing of the ShareBuilder push suggest light at the end of the tunnel for consumer mood?

In an exchange of e-mails, ING Direct’s corporate spokesman revealed some interesting things about the company’s market research. “We have found through research (and focus groups) that people have changed their behaviors,” he wrote. “The things they are doing differently now (saving money, paying down debt and thinking before buying) make them feel more in control, which in turn makes them feel more optimistic about their personal finances and the overall economy. These people are more confident in themselves and more self-driven. These are the people the ad is speaking to: the do-it-yourself community."

According to ING’s research, almost half of Americans (46%) say they do not want and do not need professional personal money management advice. That’s up from 31% in 2006.

Also, the company’s mood ring indicates that most Americans are “somewhat to highly optimistic (cautiously so) that ‘the worst is behind us’ and ‘we're coming out of it now.’”

Not exactly ebullience, but perhaps another small sign that the American consumer is coming out of his or her funk, and the investment climate is improving.

--  Dan Neil