ELIZABETH, N.J. -- From the Oregon coast to Atlantic City, the credit union message of awareness, advocacy and membership underwent a large-scale tune up in 2006 conveyed by characters as diverse as Bob the Credit Union Guy or those BizKid$ from Junior Achievement. Leading the yearlong drive to test new and creative approaches to credit union branding were some 20 state leagues joined by CUNA, all of which put more funding into radio, TV and billboard messaging.
Compared to past years, the branding campaigns waged by the leagues and individual CUs had, as one CU leader put it, a "warm and fuzzy" ownership, awareness or literacy theme keyed to getting both youth and nonmembers to realize their kinship with a CU, whether it be down the block, downtown or across the state.
"If the hotel service staff at our convention were asking questions about the 'Blue You Dot' and 'Bob the Credit Union Guy', that was a revelation and so I think we have a huge success on our hands," boasted Glenn South, head of the New Jersey Credit Union League's Cooperative Ad committee.
South, who also is president/CEO of County Educators Federal Credit Union in nearby Roselle Park, was referring to the league's active use all year of the friendly "Bob" character and "The Difference You" logo licensed from the Utah League of Credit Unions with "Bob" paraded in person at the New Jersey league's November convention in Atlantic City.
"I know when credit union advocacy appears across the country, it is usually used to defend the rights of the industry versus those of the banks but our campaign is not being used for any other purpose than consumer awareness," said South, noting the 2007 campaign now has 47 New Jersey CU participants with hopes more will sign up.
Added South, "You can bet 'Bob' the credit union guy will be highly visible in our shop."
The long simmering debate, however, among CEOs and top marketing management has been how much of a financial commitment is required for the co-op campaigns when scarce funds might be more wisely spent locally.
Some state leagues have said media costs in big city markets have been prohibitive making even limited radio campaigns out of reach.
While the California/Nevada Credit Union Leagues led the industry two years ago with its mandatory rule on CU participation in co-ops, only the Pennsylvania Credit Union Association has joined that trend launching a $2.25 million, 18-month awareness campaign starting next July.
PCUA said the 2007 campaign featuring TV ads along with radio "and other media opportunities will be funded through a mandatory assessment fee" and on that association leadership is confident CUs would cough up the funds even though in California there were resignations including several medium size CUs that have yet to rejoin.
Dues bills were slated to go out last week, but Norbert Kaczmarek, PCUA chairman, said that based on six statewide meetings earlier this year "the reaction is very positive from our members who understand the bold decision the board has made." The ad campaign is vital, he said, considering Pennsylvania's low statewide ranking in membership growth. In that vein, the California/ Nevada leagues in prepping for 2007 said its new awareness ads, under a $6.2 million radio and online campaign, will feature a new "call to action" to convince nonmembers and voters to join CUs. According to Robert Ahlander, director of communications at the Utah League, that league's popular "blue dot/Bob" ad series has now matured into a new phase focusing heavily on how members can acquire loans and other CU products.
Based on new research, "we've learned that the Utah public is well aware of what a credit union is and what we do but now they want to know, 'what's in it for them,'" said Ahlander. In other words, why bother patronizing a CU?
Apart from awareness, the emphasis on financial literacy and a linkup with adults has been the forte of the $2.6 million BizKid$ campaign the Washington Credit Union League kicked off last March with the Public Broadcasting System and Junior Achievement Worldwide.
The BizKid$ show is set to air in April with CU taglines on the syndicated program to be broadcast on scores of PBS stations. National and state foundations, vendors along with the World Council of Credit Unions have all agreed to pony up funds to finance the TV venture beyond 2008. --firstname.lastname@example.org