The success of BECU’s viral University of Washington gold debit card campaign featuring famous UW alumni singing the school’s fight song may have some credit unions searching for some star power as well. But Sean McDonald, chairman of the CUNA Marketing & Business Development Council, suggests taking a strategic pause first.
"Look, the pros of having a big name star are pretty obvious," said McDonald, who is chief marketing officer and director of business development for Liberty Savings Federal Credit Union. "You think any credit union wouldn’t want Oprah as a spokesperson? When you see what she’s does for the authors in her book club, can you imagine if someone with that kind of star power advocates a particular credit union or the industry as a whole?"
Some of the challenges, he said range from the costs involved for that celebrity spokesperson and the ability to commit to the credit union reputation.
"Things happen in life and everyone, myself included, makes mistakes, but my mistakes won’t make the front page of The New York Times or National Enquirer, so the vetting process of who you’re dealing with is very important," said McDonald. "You’re also at the mercy of their schedule. They might be gone for six months filming a movie or let’s say you go with a sports figure–a baseball player is busy from mid-February to the end of October. At my credit union we just don’t have the funds to work with a celebrity and given our market in New Jersey, I’m not sure it would resonate with our members."
He said it boils down to whether it fits in your credit union’s overall strategic plan and budget. He also suggested if going the celebrity route, why not consider local stars?
"They may not have the recognition of say a Brad Pitt, but there are great local people that everyone in the community knows and respect enough that if they say why not go to Liberty Savings it means more than any commercial," said McDonald. "Look beyond just famous to leveraging those who are centers of influence–maybe trusted community leaders or activists, it’s been more effective for my credit union and our demographic. But there’s nothing wrong with using real celebrities as long as it’s part of a well thought out strategic plan."
He added that he understands the need to raise awareness of credit unions, and it’s a challenge the council will continue to address this year.
"I don’t want credit unions to be the best kept secret anymore," said McDonald. "I want all consumers to know what we can do and how we can help. The trend of cutting marketing budgets when economic times are rough has to change. History has shown that the top performing businesses in any industry that dug deeper and continued marketing during an economic downturn were in the best position to move forward when it turned around while others were left playing catch-up."
He added that the credit union industry as a whole needs to use more modern vernacular and talk in real terms about the value credit unions offer.