Joint advertising programs are nothing new to credit unions. With varying degrees of success (or failure), credit union ad dollars have been raised and spent on local, state, regional, and national paid space advertising campaigns for many years. These cooperative efforts have involved utilizing special newspaper supplements (a favorite) like those tied in to International Credit Union Day, television spots, radio commercials, billboards, weekly and daily newspaper ads, and more recently some Internet ads as well. In most cases, creative was done by a committee of credit union marketing directors and/or CU volunteers serving on a marketing committee. Sometimes marketing agencies specializing in credit unions were used, or a local ad agency was called on to produce the message. These messages, and thus the predetermined thrust of the advertising, were all over the map from attempts to sign up more members to bashing banks. The scope of every one of these campaigns was limited only by the amount of money voluntarily contributed by credit unions, and in some cases by various support and vendor groups, to produce materials and buy space. None of these cooperative advertising campaigns relied on membership dues money. Many of these efforts started off with a bang, but quickly fizzled for a host of reasons. One of many examples: CUNA once had the largest, most successful, and broad-based national and local ad campaigns. It included award winning Rose Bowl parade floats. It used celebrity spokespersons like Chad Everret, a popular television star at the time. Campaign teams produced TV and radio spots and print ad slicks for credit unions to use in support of the national effort. With a formal place in the CUNA hierarchy, it created a high profile for itself and became known simply as the NAP (National Advertising Program). NAP had a full time staff of professionals, and used an Indiana-based outside agency to produce the creative and make the media buying decisions. It lasted a long time, that is until politics and petty jealousies crept in and gradually undermined the program. The biggest reasons for its demise were bickering over funding and too many opinions on the creative approach so that it became toothless. Another example: a few years back the California Credit Union League tried to launch a very ambitious statewide advertising program. There was lots of enthusiasm for the proposed program. Yet, it never got off the ground. Among several reasons why not, its promoters overestimated the financial support their program would generate among California credit unions. Recently, however, the league and its movers and shakers groups decided to try again. The need for a statewide advertising campaign had become much more obvious than any previous efforts to reach target audiences with a credit union message. Advocacy became the overriding reason for doing a program. The focus this time would definitely be single minded and be directly aligned with the goals of all state and national CU trade groups. Based on what they came up with, this time there must have been a decision made early on to have as a starting point a study of all the reasons why so many previous credit union efforts to conduct successful ad campaigns never became resounding success stories. What other reason could there be for the new California/Nevada statewide advertising campaign have for apparently doing everything right? The list is long. At the top is a unique funding strategy. No more hat in hand approaches to credit unions in the state hoping they would contribute based on a formula. Or at least pony up something. Instead a program was approved that makes it mandatory for every member credit union to provide financial support, just like membership dues, to stay a member of the California and Nevada leagues. In other words voluntary was replaced by mandatory. The result? A six million dollar kitty to implement and launch an advocacy advertising campaign. If anyone had asked me if they could pull off such a novel and aggressive funding scheme, I would have laughed. But they sold it for the right reasons. The money would be spent solely on advocacy, the single most important reason for any credit union trade group to exist. And the banking industry lobbyists have made it crystal clear that the need was never greater. This campaign would not attempt to be all things to all people. The rifle approach rather than a scattergun attack would be the sole focus. What else did they do different? Thy put together a group of league staff, respected credit union CEOs, and CU marketing talent second to none. Thye decided the creative thrust would not be that credit unions are better than banks (a creative favorite of most credit union marketing directors), but that credit unions are different. And they decided to leave the creative to Footer Cone & Belding, a nationally known and respected New York ad agency (something the NAP did not do) rather than get involved in a politicized, homegrown effort. Other campaigns have failed because potential contributors demanded the right to sign off on the creative message before anteing up any money. Of course everyone thinks they are a marketing expert. They also decided to concentrate on a single medium, radio. And they promised to provide contributors with an unbiased research report on what results the campaign was achieving. Looking ahead, and assuming this advocacy advertising campaign achieves its ambitious goals, it should be obvious that other leagues should jump on the California/Nevada bandwagon. Think about it. The banking industry attack strategy has switched from a national fight to going after credit unions state by state.Utah, Iowa, Missouri, Virginia, and New Mexico, etc. A credit union response via this campaign on a state-by-state basis would make a lot of more sense than every state reinventing the wheel as they are currently doing. Once again California appears to be way out in front in promoting and protecting CU interests. Comments? Call 1-800-345-9936, Ext. 15, or Fax 561-683-8514, or E-mail [email protected].

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Peter Westerman


Credit Union Times

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