Forget pictures of happy homeowners or even of actual houses. Mortgage finance company Freddie Mac is using an egg to tell its story.

Last week, Freddie kicked off its fall advertising campaign with a full-page ad in The Washington Post. The ad also is to appear in the Wall Street Journal and Barron's, spokesman David R. Palombi said.

The ad features the image of an egg with a roof, windows and door sketched over it to resemble a house. The accompanying slogan: "The most valuable egg in the American nest."

"Congress started Freddie Mac 35 years ago with a simple mission. Help keep mortgage rates stable and low, so more people can own their own homes," the ad says. "It's working."

Despite Freddie's six-year-old ad campaign, research shows that people have only the foggiest notion of what Freddie is about, said Bruce Haynes of National Media Inc., the Alexandria firm that created the ad. Rather than trying to explain a "government-sponsored entity" and "mortgage-based securities," the agency decided to communicate at what Haynes terms "a values level."

Thus the egg.

Joseph Benson, a branding strategist who works with financial services companies, approved, saying the egg evokes "protecting and building a future."

But Freddie critics such as financial consultant Bert Ely see the egg as a high-paid lobbyist delivering a subtle political message.

Congress is considering legislation to reign in Freddie and its larger rival Fannie Mae following their multibillion-dollar accounting scandals. "Eggs can break," Ely said. "What is implicit in the ad is, 'Don't screw up the works.' "

Palombi and Haynes said the ad has nothing to do with the legislation.

The egg, said Haynes, "is an icon of opportunity."

-- Annys Shin