Pathmatics Blog

BlackRock Touts Sustainability—Do the Rest of the “Big Three” Stack Up?

February 26 2020

BlackRock, a global investment management firm with about US$7.43 trillion assets under management, made headlines last month when they pledged to make sustainability “the new standard” for their investment approach. The largest asset manager in the world, their declaration was intended to initiate a groundbreaking trend toward climate change and environmental risk analysis. What does the environment have to do with finance? A lot, it turns out. A report published by BlackRock last year states that “extreme weather events” will pose risks to vast amounts of commercial real estate and public utilities, greatly impacting local GDP.

In addition to adding climate change as a factor in its risk assessment of companies, BlackRock has begun emphasizing investments that “exhibit positive environmental, social, and governance (ESG) business practices.” This has paid off quickly: BlackRock's iShares (a branded name for the company’s ETFs), many of which specialize in sustainable investments, saw a $600M investment after trading for less than a week

What’s behind the success of iShares? We’ll take a look at the way BlackRock has been advertising this product, and how their campaign strategy compares to the remaining two  “Big Three” index fund managers: The Vanguard Group and State Street Corporation.

Putting Their Money Where Their Mind Is

BlackRock has been promoting iShares intensely in the past six months, with a total ad spend of $5M racking up 281M impressions across 290 unique creatives. Those creatives predominantly consist of GIFs about iShares, with bright, solid-color backgrounds and bold black lettering that invites investors to “Be a capitalist and a crusader.” One creative, a GIF that urged clients to “Put your money where your mind is,” was placed on MarketWatch.com and WSJ.com on September 19, 2019. By Valentine’s Day 2020, the ad was still running and accounted for almost $1M of the ad spend alone.

Given that big presence on MarketWatch and WSJ, we weren’t surprised to see desktop display as BlackRock’s format of choice, though they buy a healthy mix of mobile display, desktop video, Twitter, and Facebook ads as well (listed in order of prevalence). BlackRock buys the majority of its ads direct—96%. Though the largest spend share for any one publisher is MarketWatch (35%), Twitter has the largest impression share (25%), indicating that BlackRock is attempting to capture the age 18-49 demographic and tap into the proven success of caused-based business practices, with its eco-themed  messaging.

Spiders on the Web

State Street seems to be speaking to the 18-49 demographic as well. Their creative catalog is filled with funny videos that might remind you  of a Geico ad, with other top creatives prominently featuring  spokesperson Elizabeth Banks. The overall effect is to set aside any stuffiness one might associate with an asset manager. 

Similar to BlackRock,State Street  is buying most of their ads direct (91%), centering on desktop formats, and favoring finance publishers like Morningstar.com, WSJ.com, and Yahoo’s finance page. Also like BlackRock, they recently launched an ETF with an ESG tilt. The past six months have shown them almost exclusively plugging their SPDR ETFs. mirroring the climate change we saw from BlackRock and solidifying the message that climate and the economy are necessarily intertwined. One of their n a Twitter ads reads, “A sizable portion of the US labor force is impacted by #ExtremeWeather. Find out how the trend of extreme weather could impact the economy.” 

The Vanguard of… Money Market Funds? 

The Vanguard Group, as we saw in last week’s blog post on B2B advertisers, mimics the others’ breakdown in adformats and direct ad buy. Where they deviate are their budget, impressions, and promotional slant. 

In the past six months Vanguard spent almost $34M on digital advertising, garnering 2.6B impressions. Their 1,651 unique creatives touched on ETFs, but promoted money market funds and retirement funds more heavily. The visual style of their creatives is more formal, as though they’re trying to appeal to a more refined audience, and include soothing images of affectionate families and attractive, smiling, senior citizens. Vanguard favors the finance website Fool.com as well as Amazon.com, where they’re of course attracting every demographic in the book. None of their creatives mention climate change or environmental risk.

The Road Ahead

One thing is clear when it comes to the Big Three: no financial product is a clear frontrunner for all of them. Other than leaning on desktop formats, they use generally different digital strategies, and they appear to be speaking to different audiences who have different needs. 

Will BlackRock be the sustainability leader that they want to be? Will Vanguard and State Street turn toward ESG-friendly funds, or will they remain in their own separate lanes? By keeping an eye on their advertising habits, we’ll watch new trends in investing unfold. 

Learn More

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About Author

Sarah Fleishman

With over a decade of experience across digital marketing, content, creative, and PR, Sarah is a creative and dynamic thinker who loves to delight clients with unique and relatable content. Sarah graduated from UC Berkeley with a BA in Sociology.

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