Dear Dagen: In Defense of Stuart

Also, more on the arbitration process and a reader poll on TV pitchmen.
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It's hard to believe that a poorly groomed, gangly slacker with a bad dye job could bring fame to a Nebraska brokerage.

But Stuart's done it.

Tuesday, I

reviewed some online brokerage commercials, and equated Stuart to Joe Isuzu. But his devotees stepped in to praise the excitable loafer, the centerpiece of

Ameritrade's

(AMTD) - Get Report

ad campaign.

"My personal favorite is the Ameritrade one where Stuart is photocopying his face for an invitation to a party, shows his boss how to trade online and then invites him to the party. A true classic -- worthy of an A," writes

Steve Rossi

.

Rich Cancilla

also gives Stuart an A: "I'm not sure why you have a bitter attitude toward online brokerages, but I'm finding some of the spots, especially Stuart, downright hilarious."

Matthew Tucker

writes, "I think that most of the online broker ads are targeted towards twentysomething men with some spare change. ... Being a twentysomething man, I get the humor (not to say that you don't)."

Evidently, Stuart appeals to the opposite sex as well. "My teenage daughters think Stuart's hot. They all come running to the TV whenever the ad is on. They couldn't tell you who

Merrill Lynch

(MER)

is, but they know about Ameritrade," writes

Lindsay St. Jean

.

Jesse Clanton

takes his devotion to Stuart a step further: "I like all the Ameritrade ads. I hope Ameritrade sends a CD-ROM copy of these ads along with their annual report."

Readers also wrote in to laud another Ameritrade ad.

"I love the Ameritrade ad showing the immigrant language class that can barely understand English, but at the first reference to Wall Street, they are fluent, knowledgeable and on the cutting edge," says

Stephen O'Reilly

. "The ad displays the empowerment of online discount trading, freedom and liberty, the do-it-yourself American dream."

Adds

Benjamin Street

: "I am surprised that you did not hammer Ameritrade's square-dancing commercial. I hate the commercial, but as I write this, I am singing the song in my head. From an advertising standpoint, it must therefore be a successful commercial. I hope so. I currently own some Ameritrade stock."

I thought about critiquing that square-dancing ad. But it would have been too easy.

An even more disturbing ad from

E*Trade

(EGRP)

, in which a young, kept man is required to rub the bunions of a rich, older woman, drew sharply divided opinions.

"It's quite good, and it ends with the line 'Be your own sugar daddy,'" writes

Steve Otto

. "It's creating a buzz on the stock chat boards."

Others can't stomach it.

"The most loathsome ad -- by far -- as well as the most disgusting," says

Henry Costanzo.

What do you think? Take our poll below.

Who is your favorite TV pitchman?

Stuart for Ameritrade.

Shannon Sharpe for Charles Schwab.

Johnny, the foot masseuse, for E*Trade.

Mr. Whipple.

More on Cold Calls

In early August, I wrote about how to

take on your broker if you've been wronged. A later column discussed the

securities arbitration process in detail.

But the questions just keep coming.

Apparently, for many readers, getting even with their broker is a recurring fantasy.

Samuel Frenkel

complained about his brokerage firm a few months ago and wants to know where to go now: "I sent a letter outlining my complaint to the chief compliance officer of the brokerage. My first letter was on Aug. 12. Last week I resent a copy with a note that I wasn't pleased with the lack of an answer. With whom would I follow up next?"

A lawyer.

It has been more than two months since you wrote that firm about your complaint. I don't know what the problem is, but the firm should have at least acknowledged that it received your letter.

"If there is a margin call, the brokerage expects a response in 24 hours," notes Mitchell Perlstein, an attorney with the

Investors' Law Center

in Boca Raton, Fla.

"I wouldn't have waited this long," Perlstein adds. "We've found that they drag their heels in responding to such letters, but time works on their side."

I don't know how much money is involved, but you'll certainly have to decide whether it's worth it to hire a lawyer. A lawyer might charge you $150 to $250 an hour or could charge a contingency fee on any amount you win in arbitration.

If you need help, the

Public Investors Arbitration Bar Association

offers a list of lawyers around the country on its Web site at

www.piaba.org.

That's a nice segue into the next question.

Paul Mattingly

wants to know: "Is the

National Association of Securities Dealers

arbitration process fair to individual investors? I have read that is heavily tilted against the client -- not a level playing field. What are the facts?"

You're likely to feel paranoid when you are being judged in a forum run by the same industry that you are suing. That said, there are some clear advantages to the relatively fast-moving arbitration system that keeps you out of the clogged courts system.

From beginning to end, the entire arbitration process typically takes 12 to 15 months. In court, it could take years to get your case heard.

The majority of claims filed with

NASD Regulation

are settled before they ever reach the hearing stage. The number of investors who win their cases fluctuates between a little more than 50% and just over 60%.

Also, NASD Regulation will suspend a broker or a firm if an award is not paid, which leads to a high rate of payments.

Lastly, I doubt you would want the average jury hearing your complaint about some poorly executed options trade. With arbitration, your complaint will be heard before a panel that includes representatives from the securities business. Maybe you see an inherent conflict in that. I see individuals who at least know that an equity is the same thing as a stock.

Send your questions and comments to

deardagen@thestreet.com, and please include your full name.

Dear Dagen aims to provide general fund information. Under no circumstances does the information in this column represent a recommendation to buy or sell funds or other securities.