Nuveen, the $973bn asset management arm of TIAA, is rolling out a multi-pronged marketing campaign to establish a unified brand emphasizing the firms’ responsible investing histories.

TIAA acquired the Chicago-based shop in 2014 and hired Marty Willis from OppenheimerFunds two years later to serve as chief marketing officer for the subsidiary. According to Willis, developing a brand that communicated both the now-combined firm’s breadth of product offerings and its investment specialties was among her key mandates.

Marty Willis

Nuveen’s new slogan – “Investing by example” – was unveiled this month on the firm’s website, a YouTube video and on billboards across the US. The messaging was inspired by TIAA Founder Andrew Carnegie’s mission to provide retirement plans for teachers and nonprofits and John Nuveen’s role in building US infrastructure through municipal finance, Willis explained.

“Combined, these two entities had a heritage of bringing an uncommon amount of accountability to clients,” she said. “It wasn’t just about how they invested – it was more about why they invested. That’s what we found within the DNA of the company, so we had an opportunity to tell a unique story.”

What’s old is new

Before the rebrand, Nuveen conducted market research and found that investors weren’t aware of the scope of the firm’s platform, which includes mutual funds, closed-end funds, separately managed accounts and, since 2016, exchange-traded funds. Nuveen also felt that competing asset managers’ campaign messages were very similar.

To differentiate, Nuveen’s new ads focus on specific themes: retirement and income; alternatives, with emphasis on real assets; and environmental, social and governance investing. The campaign attempts to show how Nuveen’s offerings affect the world, Willis said.

“What we believe is that an investment can cause a positive ripple effect that extends way beyond what that initial investment does,” she explained. “In the real estate world, it’s not just about putting up a beautiful building – it’s about how that building can transform and enrich the community it serves. It creates a whole other industry around it.”

This ripple effect is illustrated in a literal sense in the campaign video, created in collaboration with animation shop Psyop. In the ad, an animated droplet falls onto a grey surface and transforms into a colorful cityscape, with the new, largely green background spreading around it to reveal windmills, farmland, a forest and bridges back to the city.

The clip, which the firm plans to air on financial TV networks like Bloomberg and CNBC later this year, includes the tagline, “When we invest in a world we’re proud to leave behind, it isn’t just business as usual. It’s investing by example.” It also features a cover of The Carpenters’ 70s hit single, “We’ve Only Just Begun,” by the Grammy-nominated band TV On The Radio.

The classic song may catch the ear of baby boomers, while the emphasis on the environment may appeal to younger investors, Todd Rosenbluth, director of mutual fund and ETF research at CFRA Research, argued.

Noting that the song cover is symbolic of the way Nuveen wants to modernize its traditions and make them relevant for the future, Willis said the video tested well with investors of all demographics.

“When we asked people, in terms of a more aspirational message, they always believe they follow people who lead by example — they put actions behind what they say,” she said. “This is true of this organization. We often invest alongside our clients … We take responsible investing to the fullest in terms of what we do in our buildings, and our farmers are all environmentally focused. We feel that we are walking the talk.”

A Nuveen out of home installation near New York’s Penn Station.

Print and digital ads emphasizing these concepts will run in publications like Barron’s, The Wall Street Journal, The AtlanticForbesFortune and a number of trade titles. The creative, developed in partnership with Boston-based ad agency MullenLowe will debut over the next two months.

Out of home ads were unveiled in the beginning of September, including billboards near New York’s Penn Station and Grand Central Terminal and installations located in New York, San Francisco, Dallas, Los Angeles and Chicago airports, according to a Nuveen spokesperson. Ads are also running in elevator banks in what the firm identified as key markets, Willis added.

Developing partnerships

A major component of the brand push is partnerships with Forbes, Bloomberg, TED and The Atlantic, which will begin rolling out marketing content next month.

“We selected them because, for one thing, they all have highly valued brands in the marketplace,” Willis said. “Secondarily, they really value the message that we are trying to put out in the marketplace – that we were a different type of asset management firm, that it wasn’t so much about our philosophy and our process, but why we invest the way we do.”

The Atlantic will launch a Nuveen documentary series it produced. Videos will tell stories about the impact of Nuveen’s investments on communities around the world, Willis said.

“One of Nuveen’s unique capabilities is that we are an investor, but we also own farmland and buildings,” she continued. “So the videos may show some of our farmland, and they may talk about some of the buildings that we’re building. For example, we are constructing a big building in Scotland that’s rejuvenating Edinburgh.”

Nuveen was named the largest global farmland investor in the world in a 2017 Pensions & Investments ranking. It is also one of the top five global real estate investment managers, according to the ANREV/INREV/NCREIF 2018 Fund Manager Survey.

Its consideration of environmental impacts will be a key component of the videos, Willis said, adding that Nuveen feels that responsible investing goes beyond offering ESG funds.

“We invest in medicine, universities, municipal bonds that build schools,” she said. “It’s all part of a much broader message that your investments can also make the world a better place.”

Nuveen’s current offerings use ESG analysis to create diversified portfolios tilted towards companies with better sustainability profiles and performance, Jon Hale, Morningstar’s director of sustainability research, noted. They also offer low-carbon ESG US and international stock portfolios.

On the bond side, the $2.5bn TIAA-CREF Social Choice Bond Fund (TSBHX) devotes 40% to 50% of assets to its “proactive social investments” sleeve. The $45.6m NuShares ESG US Aggregate Bond ETF (NUBD) is also the only ESG-based intermediate-bond ETF, Hale noted.

Associating a brand with sustainability like Nuveen is doing now is well-received by consumers in virtually every industry today, Hale contended.

“People want to do business with companies that convey a sense of broader purpose and a sensitivity to their impact on the world around them,” he said. “Investing is actually late to the game on this, compared with many consumer sectors, partly because it’s been dominated by an older demographic, but that’s changing.”

Willis also revealed Nuveen plans to run ads around the “Forbes 400” list of the richest people in America, and videos ahead of podcasts produced by TED. She declined to detail what those ads, in addition to the Bloomberg partnership, would entail.

However, Willis described the campaigns running across these media outlets as more integrated marketing rather than traditional advertising. She said they have also been “getting a lot of demand” from consumers for information about responsible investing.

Nuveen has seen inflows since TIAA completed the acquisition, according to Patrick Keon, senior research analyst at Thomson Reuters Lipper. The firm has taken in about $3.1bn YTD, seeing $2.88bn flow into its mutual funds and $176.9m into ETFs.