Though it recently wrapped up a national advertising campaign for Merrill Lynch, Bank of America continues to ramp up branding of the division, with an extension of the Merrill New York Yankees sponsorship as well as recent visits to Merrill offices by BofA personnel to monitor marketing materials.
The branding and the visits have attracted both praise and criticism from FAs. The firm relaunched the Merrill branded bull last October after putting it out to pasture briefly, and ran the national advertising campaign from January 25 through the end of April. The campaign included an interactive billboard on Times Square, and advertisements covering Boston’s busy South Station aimed at attracting retail wealth management clients.Meanwhile,the Merrill logo is still on display at Yankee stadium’s outfield.
“I had never seen Merrill do all this before,” said a pleased Merrill FA in New York City. “If anything, Bank of America has stepped up the marketing of Merrill.”
Inside the firm, Bank of America marketing executives have lately been patrolling branch offices, scrutinizing marketing and promotional collateral to make sure it fits with the new Merrill campaign, according to sources at the firm.
“We just had two marketing guys come into our office from Bank of America corporate, and they basically wanted to make sure we had adequate signage up on the wall,” said one regional FA for Merrill’s thundering herd. “We’re meant to be co-branding with them, so they were looking to see that the logo of the bull was in place.”
Unfortunately, at least one of these encounters ended unhappily. A source claims FA tempers erupted after a group of dutiful Bank of America marketing pros swooped down on their office to refresh various marketing materials. “There was a lot of bad language and cursing when the BofA folks started to remove some old Merrill signage,” said the source, claiming that some slighted FAs present felt the Bank of America executives were actually trying to sabotage Merrill’s legendary bull logo. “It seems to be the Bank of America approach; they can’t help but be Big Brother,” he added.
“I don’t know where this came from,” responded Merrill spokeswoman, Selena Morris. “The Merrill Lynch logo and bull is not going away, believe me, never; we just spent $20 million relaunching the brand.”
Sallie Krawcheck, president of Bank of America Global Wealth & Investment, at the relaunch last year, said Merrill Lynch Wealth Management (as the brokerage division is properly known), “exemplifies the positive relationships that our financial advisors forge with clients."
One FA at Merrill said he would be surprised to see the Merrill brand diminished or retired. “It would never make sense to discount the brand,” he said. Some sources speculate that Bank of America is deliberately spending on the brand in anticipation of an eventual sale of Merrill Lynch. “There has been a strong suspicion that BofA will end up spinning off Merrill Lynch at some point,” said industry recruiter, Danny Sarch.