Every year, regular as clockwork, since, oh, I don’t know, about 1927, I’ve turned up in Money Marketing at about this time, putting my name to a self-evidently counter-productive article – a review of the first-quarter ISA season advertising which is generally so unflattering that all the asset managers named in it immediately cross me off their lists of people they’d ever like to do business with, speak to or even sit next to at the Money Marketing awards bash.
But not this year. Mid-March already, and no such article has appeared – and I can tell you, to put you out of your agony of uncertainty, that no such article will be appearing any time soon.
Why so? Is it that I’m tired of shooting myself in the foot so regularly? No, it’s for a different reason – I can’t see any (consumer-facing) ISA advertising to review.
Actually, that’s not quite true. There is one gigantic ISA campaign out there, so big that it almost compensates – at least in media expenditure terms – for the absence of all the others. This is of course Fidelity’s important and mould-breaking ISA Guidance campaign, a breakthrough initiative so significant that I think it deserves a blog of its own in due course. But apart from that, the only thing I’ve noticed has been a boring, recessive and obscure tube card campaign for one of the so-called new wave D2C players, Nutmeg, which serves only to demonstrate that among the many radical and progressive skills to which new-wave players lay claim in this dinosaur-ridden industry, the ability to understand and engage with consumers is definitely not included.
So again we must ask the question: why so? Where’s everyone else gone? It’s hard to believe that they all simply forgot to get new campaigns ready: there must be a better explanation. I can think of four or five things that it might be, although I must admit that the first in the following list seems distinctly unlikely:
1. Reason has finally prevailed and retail fund providers have belatedly realised that actually ISA sales aren’t particularly skewed towards the first quarter, so advertising at the same time as all your rivals doesn’t really achieve anything except to ensure that you get an unhelpfully low share of voice.
2. Plans and budgets for Q1 2013 were set back in Q4 2012, when the markets were still horribly volatile and scary, and no-one thought there was the slightest chance that they’d be rocking up to all-time highs during the following quarter.
3. Retail fund managers are so anxious about the threat to their margins posed by the RDR that they’ve battened down all the hatches and can’t even stump up a few hundred grand for some cross-tracks at East Croydon station.
4. Retail fund managers are so anxious about the threat to their distribution posed by the RDR that they’re working flat out on exciting new D2C initiatives and are saving every available marketing pound for big-ticket launch advertising campaigns. (I wish.)
5. There are in fact just as many ISA campaigns as usual, but this year they’re so dull and recessive, and so massively overshadowed by Fidelity, that I’ve simply failed to notice them.
I can’t think of any other explanations, but if you have any theories I’d be delighted to hear them. And meanwhile, I must say, it does make a nice change to get through the so-called ISA season with only one name – Nutmeg, obviously – dropping off my prospects list.