New Unity One Campaign Spanks Banks
Unity One Credit Union's new Spank Free banking campaign is taking a no-holds-barred approach against banks.
The $209 million cooperative in Fort Worth, Texas, launched the campaign in March and recently erected a giant billboard featuring a hand-print and a denim-clad derriere.
The concept is a bit risque and could be seen as sexist to some, but Unity One reported positive feedback from members and the public.
“Using the backside and a hand strategically placed definitely is unlike anything the credit union has ever done in its 87-year history,” said Erayne Hill, vice president of marketing for the 30,000-member Unity One. “The imagery and creative definitely causes pause, but we think in a good way.”
She agreed the campaign is controversial, but she said it has proven effective.
“Absolutely it was a risk,” Hill said. “However, at the end of the day, we needed a powerful message with reach. I believe that we achieved that.”
Controversial campaigns are not a new phenomenon in the credit union industry.
In 2012, U.S. Senate Federal Credit Union released a risqué direct mail ad featuring a buxom blonde woman's cleavage and the question: “Got Big Plans?”
The ad seemed like a slap in the face to some members, including a woman who started an online petition. After pressure from the public and negative media coverage, the $563 million credit union in Alexandria, Va., issued an apology.
Although U.S. Senate FCU learned a painful lesson with its provocative ad, Unity has mostly received applause for its new campaign, the Texas credit union said.
“Surprisingly, a majority of comments have been quite favorable,” Hill said. “We had a member say, ‘Spank Free? Hmmm … I love it!’ We love these reactions, especially from those in the communities we serve. It means that they are taking notice, and perhaps, the message will stick. We are glad to see consumers embrace fresh and interesting material.”
As with any new outside-the-box idea, there will always be naysayers, Hill said.
“However, they have been few and far in between for Spank Free banking,” the marketing vice president added. “Our message is clear: We do not condone unnecessary hassles when it comes to managing your finances. Handling your money should never feel like a punishment.”
Other executives also contend that boundary-stretching campaigns like Unity's Spank Free Banking can help credit unions cut through the clutter, catch the attention of target audiences and create buzz that brings in new business.
“Credit unions should worry less about negative responses and just hope they get responses,” said Randy Karnes, CEO of CU*Answers in Grand Rapids, Mich. “No one learned anything from silence or not taking chances. Do not play down to the market just to shock, but when you need a jolt to get to the next step, take a chance. Like anything else in business, marketing needs to push for new experiences and embrace solutions yet tried.”
As for his initial response to Unity's campaign, Karnes said, “I smiled and appreciated the boldness in the imagery, but it took me some thinking and reading to put the concept of hassle-free banking with the visuals.”
Unity One's new campaign “definitely gets people talking,” said Mia Perez, a member of CUNA Marketing & Business Development Council's executive committee. “In terms of advertising, consumers pick us, we don't get to pick them,” added Perez, chief administrative officer at the $183 million Louisiana Federal Credit Union in La Place, La. “We no longer get to dictate traditional marketing. There's too much fighting for the consumer's attention. This does require marketers to scream louder, to be bolder, and to push the line.”
Before moving forward with a campaign that could stir controversy, experts advise organizations to take precautionary steps, such as conducting a focus group study and drafting an apology letter or explanation in case one is needed.
Amanda Thomas McMeans, vice president of client management of Hillsboro, Ohio-based MarketMatch, said credit unions must tread carefully and keep their audience in mind.
“Any marketing initiative, whether it's to communicate with current members or attract new ones, needs to cut through the clutter,” she said. “However, it doesn't have to be edgy as this particular campaign. It all comes down to strategy, objective and target market.”
Unity's multi-channel campaign skipped the expense of TV and radio in favor of social media and guerilla tactics, such as sponsoring Random Acts of Kindness at local businesses and partnering with community organizations.
During the first Random Acts of Kindness event at a local gas station, Unity One staff members pumped free fuel.
“The staff members were shocked to receive hugs, honks and handshakes,” Hill said. “In fact, a Unity One teller and recent high school graduate said that he didn't expect to feel so good giving something away.”
The campaign is faring well electronically and on social media, she added.
“Our click-through rate on e-mail is higher than normal,” the Unity One marketer said. “The campaign's landing page is drawing attention (1,208 views currently) and gaining views, and our Facebook impressions for certain posts have skyrocketed (585,000 total impressions, 407 new likes). The PPC and remarketing campaign shows CTR rates that are higher than typical credit union campaigns.”
Because the campaign's original objective was to increase brand awareness, Unity One conducted a community study when launching the campaign and plans to perform another study when the campaign ends in late October.
“The leads generated from the campaign have been funneled to our branches to close, and at the campaign's end, we will calculate ROI,” Hill said. “However, Unity One's June loan growth was about 29%, May 23% and April 14%. Spank Free Banking began in April. Member growth rose from 2% to 4% in this time period. While we can't attribute all the growth to Spank Free, it definitely plays a role.”
The credit union plans to wrap up the Spank Free Banking campaign with a large community event in collaboration with the Fort Worth YMCA.
Unity One launched the campaign by partnering with Glint Advertising and BlueSpire Strategic Marketing, Hill said.
“We asked for an attention-getter and they delivered,” she said. “Our CEO challenged the marketing team to change the rhetoric and hit pause on the stale financial industry imagery, and that's exactly what we did.”
Unity President/CEO Gary Williams said the campaign was devised after careful consideration.
“At a strategic planning session last year, we realized that although we were doing well, we knew we could do better,” Williams said in an email. “We needed to do something to create greater brand recognition.”
He added, “Unity One Credit Union is a lean, mean credit union machine; we operate efficiently without excessive head count. Therefore, the marketing/PR team is composed of two individuals. We handle a large portion of work in house; however, we recognize that partnering helps us stay competitive and connected to industry trends, saves time and maximizes key efforts. We’ve enjoyed working with BlueSpire and Glint Advertising on this campaign because the relationships are easy, and the outcome is far from cookie-cutter.”
For other cooperatives considering going out on a limb with marketing, Williams offered some advice.
“Thinking outside of the box can be uncomfortable, but you look at your options, think about them and trust that your marketing teams and those that they have partnered with have the experience and expertise to handle challenges,” the Unity One CEO said.