Freddie Mac launches ad campaign Company takes cue from Fannie Mae

July 11, 1993|By Ellen James Martin | Ellen James Martin,Staff Writer

For an entire weekend this spring, a Baltimore advertising agency closed off Wall Street to put up a full-sized facade of a Cape Cod house, wedged between two skyscrapers. The brick cottage -- torn down after the weekend's TV spots were filmed -- came complete with a real family, as well as doors, windows, grass, a picket fence and Kitty Litter used to simulate a sidewalk.

The TV commercial -- the brainchild of Trahan, Burden & Charles -- is part of a major image-building campaign for Freddie Mac, a shareholder company that buys and sells $190 billion worth of home mortgages each year. Launched last week, the campaign covers newspaper and television ads and seeks to hoist Freddie Mac's public profile.

"There's a lot of excitement here at Freddie Mac. This is the first time we've been on television, so a lot of people are anxiously waiting to see what happens," said Sabine Wilson, director of corporate communications, who oversees Freddie Mac's advertising program from its corporate headquarters in McLean, Competition with Freddie Mac's sibling rival, Washington-based Fannie Mae -- an even larger player in the secondary mortgage market -- was one of the factors propelling Freddie Mac into the world of image advertising, said officials at both federally regulated companies.

Fannie Mae's ads

This spring, Fannie Mae launched its "Opening Doors" campaign -- involving TV, radio and newspaper ads -- in four test cities, including Baltimore. The campaign seeks to provide information for potential homebuyers. To date, more than 50,000 consumers have called an 800-number in the ads to request a workbook offered in the TV commercials, known as "Opening Doors to the Home of Your Own."

"We're definitely competitors in the same market," acknowledges Freddie Mac's Ms. Wilson. Neither she nor her counterparts at Fannie Mae will disclose how much their companies are spending for their ad campaigns, which are both expected to go national in the near future.

It should come as no surprise that the public is only vaguely aware of the role Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac play in the world of mortgages. After all, it's rare for a homebuyer to have direct contact with anyone at either company. And until recently, their advertising consisted primarily of technical appeals to lenders and investors, appearing in the Wall Street Journal, business publications and little-known trade journals.

Fannie and Freddie now reckon they're due a more focused image in the minds of the public -- given their role. First chartered by Congress (Fannie Mae is 55 and Freddie Mac is 23), the two were established to create liquidity in America's mortgage market. They do so by buying conventional mortgages from the lenders who originate them and then transforming the mortgages into securities sold to investors on Wall Street and beyond. The money lenders receive for loans can be used to make more loans.

'A very noble mission'

"Freddie Mac fulfills a very noble mission. We want to put a face on Freddie Mac," Ms. Wilson said.

The campaign spawned by Freddie Mac seeks to appeal to what it calls "business influentials" -- the "people involved in shaping and forming public opinion," as Ms. Wilson described them. The company asked Trahan, Burden & Charles to build a house in New York's financial district to illustrate the way Freddie Mac links Wall Street and Main Street, noted Allan Charles, executive vice president and creative director of TBC, hired to do the Freddie Mac campaign.

"It's amazing how many people know Freddie Mac has something to do with mortgages but they don't have a fix on the nature and quantity of their work," Mr. Charles said.

Like many shareholder companies, Freddie Mac seeks to enhance its public standing through advertising, said Robert Matz, TBC's president. A positive reputation helps a company like Freddie Mac sell securities in public markets and could also attract greater investor interest in its stock.

Focusing on the Cape Cod built on Wall Street, one of Freddie Mac's new TV spots goes like this: "There's a Fortune Top 10 financial service company that is key to America's economy, a publicly traded company that has saved homeowners over $10 billion. Our name is Freddie Mac, and everyday we bring Wall Street to Main Street, by providing funds to mortgage lenders, keeping our nation's housing system the best in the world."

The other TV commercial plays on sentimental family themes, through the use of 10 visual vignettes. "We don't build the walls that hold the memories of the first step, the first trophies, and the first kiss. We don't make the rocker that sings the baby to sleep, or the porch swing that teaches the child to read. We're the company that keeps money flowing from Wall Street to Main Street, which has made it possible for over 12 million to buy a home. We're Freddie Mac. We don't build the dreams, we just help make them the reality."

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