- Banking may be stodgy, boring, and dull, but marketing professionals are making mundane stuff a bit more entertaining.
- Credit unions are leveraging humor and pop culture to help them stand out against the big banks. that are flooding many marketplaces with wall-to-wall ads.
- Marketing expert said humor and pop culture are effective ways to grab attention.
Credit Union Man?
Yes, Credit Union Man who was born out of the frustration at big banking and was sent to earth to teach all of us a better way to deal with our money. His super powers are used to protect the everyday person from predatory lending practices, high fees and slow loan approvals.
Credit Union Man was created by Fred Brown, director of marketing and member development at the $74 million Northeast Family Federal Credit Union in Manchester, Conn. Brown and other marketing professionals in the credit union industry, say using humor and pop culture in their marketing campaigns helps them stand out over the deluge of big bank ads in print, on television, radio, the Internet and social media across many markets.
Let’s face it, Brown said, banking is stodgy, boring and dull. Using humor or pop culture can break the same old mundane image and bring attention to the credit union difference over conventional banking. After all, a grown man wearing a red mask, a blue cape and a red and blue costume with the words Credit Union Man emblazoned on it is bound to grab attention and a few laughs.
About four years ago, people started calling Brown “credit union man” because he became active on a listserv answering people’s questions about the credit union industry. He liked the moniker, used it on his email signature and from there created the superhero character and his own website with the full support and sponsorship of Northeast Family FCU.
Joanne S. Todd, Northeast Family FCU CEO/president, said Credit Union Man has helped increase the public awareness about the credit union and the industry.
“I think it brings something rather unique to our credit union. We use Credit Union Man for special events and kids,” said Todd. “I think it sets us apart from other financial institutions because Credit Union Man is kind of fun, and you don’t see someone like a superhero promoting financial institutions.”
Todd doesn’t shy from fun marketing promotions. She participated in a fund-raising event in August that allowed people to donate $5 for a piece of duct tape and use it to strap Todd to a wall in the credit union’s main office. The donations went to support American Friends of Kenya, an organization that builds libraries and medical clinics in that country.
Brown primarily uses Credit Union Man to promote all credit unions because he believes many people are unaware of credit unions and their benefits over conventional commercial banks. He’s made appearances at various credit union conferences, schools, credit union grand openings, parades, and other events.
The $395 million America’s Credit Union in Fort Lewis, Wash., successfully used humor in June 2011, to promote a new branch in a Walmart store in Lakewood, just south of Tacoma.
The marketing goals were to retain members by creating awareness of the new in-store location, have at least 170 member households assigned to the new branch and develop a creative marketing campaign that would reflect America’s CU’s brand–friendly, optimistic, approachable, progressive, confident and even a little fun while promoting the convenience of the new branch.
Working with its ad agency, Boom Creative of Spokane, Wash., the credit union developed a direct mail postcard that featured a photo of the interior of a shopping cart with a placard ad that read: “Conveniently located between the diapers and pork rinds. Now open at Lakewood Wal-Mart. ACU.”
“The creative for this campaign used humor to convey the convenience of our new in-store branch,” explained Heidi West, vice president of marketing at ACU. “The use of the shopping cart reinforced the idea that it was a branch inside Walmart.” The credit union received a lot of positive feedback from members and people in the community, she said.
“Using humor in the campaign really gives our credit union the ability to compete with the big banks because you don’t need a big budget to get a laugh,” said West. “It’s also a good way to make our ads more effective because humor not only makes an ad more entertaining but also more memorable to consumers.” Just like many markets, ACU’s competes against a diverse combination of big banks, super regional players, small financial institutions and other credit unions.
ACU targeted 4,144 members within a five-mile radius of the new branch with the direct mail postcards. Inserts also were sent to approximately 8,000 paper statement households.
The campaign attracted 251 member households to the new branch, which far exceeded the marketing goal of 170 member households. What’s more, the campaign generated gross revenue of $35,532 from new members, according to ACU. Based on the marketing campaign’s cost of $3,289, the return on investment was 1,080%.
Moreover, ACU’s marketing campaign also received some deserved recognition as the first place winner for direct marketing in the 2012 CUES Golden Mirror Awards program.
James Robert Lay, founder of PTP New Media, an integrated marketing communications agency in Pasadena, Texas, said he is seeing some credit unions shifting beyond the traditional financial speak in their marketing efforts and venturing into the humorous pop culture messaging that may not seem directly connected with credit union products or services.
“The messaging has got to be more than just ‘catch a falling rate’ or ‘spring into savings,’” said Lay. “We look at what we can do to emotionally connect with people, and a lot of times that emotion is driven by what is going on in current events.” What’s more, market research has shown people are driven to buy products and services through emotional triggers.
For example, PTP New Media developed a successful campaign called “How To Survive A Zombie Invasion.”
“It has nothing to do with credit unions, but it has everything to do with credit unions,” explained Lay. “If you want to survive a zombie invasion you need reliable transportation. And if you want reliable transportation, you need an auto loan. Every single credit union that has run the Zombie Invasion campaign has met or exceeded their loan goals.” PTP’s site highlights about eight testimonials from credit unions and their results from Zombie Invasion campaigns.
The agency recently worked with a Wyoming credit union that ran a “Strip Your Rate” campaign for an auto loan refinance product.
“You could be pretty boring by just saying, ‘Hey, refi your auto loans with us,’ or you can encourage your members to ‘strip their auto loan rate,’” Lay said. “It is totally tongue-in-cheek. It’s not provocative beyond the messaging. But that’s the whole point. If we can make people do a double take when they see or hear an ad, then it can help you reach your goals. The Wyoming credit union, by the way, crushed their loan goal.”