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American Savings to Begin 1989 With New Ad Campaign

December 31, 1988|JESUS SANCHEZ | Times Staff Writer

American Savings enters 1989 with a new owner--Texas billionaire Robert M. Bass--and a new advertising campaign.

The multimillion-dollar ad campaign that makes its debut Sunday--the first for American in several years--is aimed at rebuilding customer loyalty and public confidence in the once-insolvent institution that has been shaken by years of unrest.

"We recognize that we have to win our customers' loyalty back," said Ronald W. Herman, executive vice president at Asher/Gould Advertising, the Los Angeles agency which created American's campaign. "They need to know it's safe and secure."

Earlier this week, American customers received mailgrams that focused on the institution's new-found financial soundness under Bass ownership and a $1.7-billion federal bailout package. The mailgrams were scheduled to be reprinted Tuesday in full-page ads in California newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times, as well as the Wall Street Journal.

On Sunday, a series of television commercials aimed at touting American's service make their debut during the pro-football playoff games, Herman says. The commercials, which will also appear during the CBS program "60 Minutes," compare the S&L's service to that given by service stations, airlines and railroads in the 1950s "when service was a lot better than it is today," Herman said.

The campaign, which was created under the term of former American Chairman William J. Popejoy, received the blessing of Bass, 40, a Ft. Worth billionaire and takeover specialist. "Mr. Bass approved the ads prior to the air date," Herman said.

The trio of television commercials are scheduled to run during the entire year, Herman said. American's advertising had been previously limited to newspaper ads detailing the S&L's rates. "American has been dormant in terms of advertising in the past couple of years," Herman said. "These ads begin the new era of American."

Six years ago, American had been transformed from a sleepy S&L to a high-pressure, high-flying institution under the control of Charles W. Knapp. But Knapp was forced out after the Securities and Exchange Commission in 1984 insisted that American restate its earnings to show a large loss instead of healthy profits.

Popejoy was subsequently brought in to lead American. But attempts to revive American failed after alarming outflows of deposits, rising interest rates and huge losses on development loans made under Knapp.

Popejoy resigned and after a nearly two-year long search for a buyer, American was taken over by Bass, who pledged $350 million up front and assured regulators through associates that American would focus on traditional mortgage lending.

Herman readily conceded that rebuilding a new image for American will take a while. "It is quite a task," he said. "You can't just turn around four or five years of negative press in 90 days."

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