Lessons from the Silicone Beltway
Calling the ad in poor taste is doubly redundant. Of course it’s going to rile the feminists, and if you’re known for being edgy, you can get away with it, like the Girls on Trampolines segment from “The Man Show” from Comedy Central in the early 2000s. U.S. Senate FCU is not “The Man Show.”
U.S. Senate FCU is a rather button-down organization as most credit unions necessarily are. Those that are edgy are far more creative than a gratuitous cleavage shot. The credit union’s marketing department that designed or approved this mailer is a team of boobs.
However I’m not offended personally. People are far too concerned about political correctness. I’m all for equal opportunity objectification. Since this design was just one piece in the larger “big plans” marketing campaign, I expect the next ad will feature a man’s large—feet. A sort of tit for tat.
Like when professional athletes or movie actors that misbehave without breaking the law (though a bit of notoriety can perk up their popularity), U.S. Senate FCU is held to a higher standard due to the very nature of its field of membership. Think about who received or saw this male-r: senators and their aides, their spouses, their children and who knows who else.
These people hold the future of credit union business lending and supplemental capital in their hands. Even if they aren’t outraged—namely because they’re taking a loan out right now for their girlfriend’s plastic surgery—they have to behave as if they are because their constituents, who also may have received the advertisement, could be upset.
At $563 million in assets, you’d think its marketing would be more sophisticated and just better. The ad doesn’t even convey whatever it is they’re advertising. I have no idea what it’s promoting.
The ad wasn’t the worst of it. An email sent to members, obtained by Roll Call’s blog Heard on the Hill which originally busted the story wide open, read:
“We sincerely regret the message we conveyed did not meet with your approval. Our marketing efforts have evolved with the times as we seek to relate to various life events of our membership. These may include paying for such traditional things as for weddings, children’s braces, and purchasing autos but also more personal activities that many people seek nowadays. We recognize any of these may not directly relate to anyone’s personal situation, and we will make every attempt to exclude you from future mailings.”
The blog’s analysis of this message is dead on: If you don’t like our marketing, tough ta-tas. While the credit union apologized for the imagery used in the ad, I haven’t seen anything promising the credit union will discontinue using it.
And the credit union’s apology in a letter to the editor of HuffingtonPost.com (published as a comment at the bottom of the story) was cold and inadequate. But as a result an online petition calling for heads to roll and sensitivity training at U.S. Senate FCU was shut down.
Victory for both sides? Maybe. Maybe not.
The public relations work afterward was almost as bad as the ad. U.S. Senate opted not to speak to Credit Union Times beyond sharing the lukewarm letter to the editor that was sent to Roll Call. The credit union didn’t realize its cups runneth over with opportunities in the PR fallout.
So the credit union royally screwed up and it was picked up by HuffPo, one of the most read news sites in existence. And it was picked up by Roll Call, widely read on Capitol Hill. And we picked it up, the most widely read, independent credit union industry news source. Local radio and television networks picked up the story. All were knockers of the ad campaign.
Bouncing back from the mistake immediately is important, unless you don’t believe it to be a mistake. Issuing a statement to members and the press was the right thing to do though two days later is incredibly slow. But a written statement is not going to win over your D-tractors. To do that you need to appear genuine and that means putting a face to the apology, even if only in writing. Explaining the other 95% of your big plans and talking about what you’re doing to resolve the issue or controls put in place to prevent it from happening again.
Obviously you don’t want to bring more attention to it, but doing this immediately, in one shot and very publicly could have gone a long way in public relations control. It would demonstrate integrity and that U.S. Senate FCU is a place that makes things right.
Otherwise your efforts seem fake. Cross my heart.