Leveraging License Plates to Promote Credit Unions
They only measure about 6 inches high by 12 inches wide, but license plates have a way of grabbing your attention, breaking up the monotony of highway driving and helping to soothe the frustrations of rush hour traffic.
But two state leagues and a credit union have found that these little billboards on wheels also can help raise some money while promoting the credit union movement.
The Delaware Credit Union League in New Castle was looking for a way to raise funds for its scholarship kitty that enables credit union staff to attend continuing education classes and webinars.
Robert Walls, former league president/CEO, came up with the idea back in 2000 and worked with the state's Division of Motor Vehicles to develop the license plates that are embossed with a credit union star insignia and America's Credit Unions, followed by the letters CU and numbers. Buyers are allowed to select their own numbers up to 9999.
“There are a lot of specialty tags that are pretty popular with organizations and groups, so the league decided why not have a special license plate for credit union members, because it would be a good way to raise funds and promote the credit union movement,” said Carole Langiu, communications and governmental affairs director for the Delaware league.
As a condition to start producing the license plates, the state required 200 drivers to sign up for the tags, which was accomplished on Nov. 1, 2001, according to a 2013 CUNA article. From 2001 to 2013, the state processed more than 360 credit union license plate requests.
The league sells credit union tags at its annual convention. A few tags with low numbers, which are popular collectibles, are also sold off as auction items during the league gathering.
A 2005 Associated Press article reported that license plates with four numbers or fewer in Delaware, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Illinois or Washington, D.C., were considered by collectors as a status symbol because the plates were once owned by people who were important enough to get them from politicians, or the plates came from an important family that bought the low-numbered plates years ago.
And some of these license plate aficionados are willing to shell out big bucks for a low-digit piece of tin. In 2008, for example, a Wilmington, Del., man paid $675,000 at an auction for a Delaware plate number 6.
Read more: Virginia league and O Bee Credit Union ...
Since 1999, hundreds of cars have been promoting the credit union movement throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia.
Lewis Wood, vice president of public relations and communication for the Virginia Credit Union League in Lynchburg, said the state required a minimum of 300 tag applications to produce the specialty plate. It was relatively easy getting the first 200 applications but a bit of struggle rounding up the last 100 applications, Wood said. After the league displayed a sample license plate at the annual meeting, the 300 applications goal was met.
Over the years, Virginia's Division of Motor Vehicles has issued 656 credit union tags that feature the “people helping people” slogan and a white silhouette of a family walking hand-in-hand. Currently, however, there are 210 active credit union plates registered in Virginia, said Sunni Blevins Brown, VDMV's public relations and media liaison officer.
Rick Pillow, president/CEO of the Virginia league, said the number of credit union license plates on the road has probably declined because of consolidations and retirements. The league does not receive any revenues from the specialty license plates.
“We used to have a good many new (license plates) around, but other than telling credit unions the license plates are available, we haven't really pushed it,” Pillow said. “Maybe we ought to do a marketing push to remind new people who come into the credit union system that the plates are available. It is good advertising.”
Virginia also allows buyers to customize their plates by selecting their own characters or letters. Souvenir plates also are available.
In addition to the promotional benefits of tags, the $178 million O Bee Credit Union in Tumwater, Wash., has figured out a way to use custom-made license plate holders for a member loyalty campaign.
Lee Wojar, the credit union's vice president of marketing, thought of the idea of providing free customized license plate holders to members. When someone from the credit union spots a members’ car with the plate holder, they get a prize.
Wojar took a $1 gentlemen's bet from James Collins, O Bee's president/CEO, who thought the idea wouldn't fly.
Collins lost the bet.
In less than a month, 500 plate holders were given to members. Wojar didn't expect them to go that fast and has already placed an order for 500 more plate holders.
The first plate holder says “OBEE HAPPY!” and the second one reads “Olympia,” the capital city of Washington. Both plates also show the credit union's web address in hopes that it may catch the interest of some prospective members.
“When you think of the psychology behind it, your car is a reflection of your personality,” Wojar said. “So it's intuitive for people to put a license plate or a license plate holder on their car that they are also proud of. People are proud of their community. Plus, people like to get stuff for free.”
When someone from the O Bee prize team (branch managers and executives) spots a frame, an envelope containing a prize from local merchants is placed under the windshield. Some of the prizes have been free car washes and discounts at a Great Wolf Lodge resort.
“When members get them, it just makes their day,” Wojar said. “Plus you’re helping local businesses and the community's economy.”