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SALT LAKE CITY – Against the backdrop of a popular branding campaign on TV, Utah credit unions were expressing private new optimism last week that a proposed resolution in the state legislature to seek Congressional intervention in the Utah tax fight might be defeated. “I think there are legislators out there who don’t feel too comfortable taking on this issue even though their leadership is pressing the case” declared Darin Moody, vice chairman of the Governmental Affairs Committee of the Utah League of Credit Unions in commenting on Nov. 30 passage of a non-binding tax-CU petition by a joint House-Senate Financial Institutions Task Force. The resolution, asking NCUA field of membership rulings be overturned and that Congress let states tax both state and federal CUs without interference, is slated to hit the House floor in late January, but its chances appeared to dim slightly with appearance of the so-called “Blue Dot-Difference Is You” commercials. “I really love this campaign and let me tell you we are hearing from our members and the public because these simple ads really highlight the essence of differences between credit unions and other institutions,” effused Curt Doman, president/CEO of the $192 million Granite FCU here. And Shelley Clarke, president/CEO of the $328 million Goldenwest FCU of Ogden, said the campaign which has a common-folk “Mr. Bob the Credit Union Guy” theme resonates among members and employees seeming “to stand out and cut through the mundane as one that people relate to.” In the TV spots, Mr. Bob as the average Joe, “is kind of like your best friend,” said Clarke, as the character goes about his daily chores while also conveying the message that CUs are focused on people rather than profits. Since last April, the league staff joined by marketing talent from a Salt Lake City agency, Summit Group Communications, have labored to come up with a TV pitch that might undercut the virulent and ongoing banker attacks and now many CEOs claim the current effort is working despite the 7-4 Task Force vote. “You know this is a campaign that isn’t pushing a product or focusing on fighting the bankers but simply has a positive message,” said James Hofeling, president/CEO of the $142 million Jordan FCU of Sandy, and a past league chairman. As for defeating the Task Force resolution to Congress, that will be a challenge, he said. “It’s not going to be a walk for sure.” Michael Milovich, president of the $47 million Eastern Utah Community FCU of Price, declared, “I’d say the blue dot campaign is a winner” adding he has heard from a few members the ads “are as funny as Budweiser commercials.” Praising the ads as “the best” she’s seen, Muriel Blake, president of the $106 million Southern Utah FCU of St. George, expressed optimism that the Task Force resolution would be killed since Utah CU members “when under fire come through.” “You’ll see our credit union members step up to the plate,” she forecast. Doman, whose Salt Lake City credit union converted to a federal charter following passage of the banker-backed restrictive anti-CU 2003 law, said the environment is “pretty tense” in the legislature as lawmakers prepare for another bank/CU imbroglio. Doman said Granite’s conversion has turned out to be the right move for his credit union, “considering we had such a hostile environment we couldn’t serve our members.” Indeed, “we couldn’t even extend a $300 loan to the son of one of our members so he could buy a lawnmower to cut grass” because of business purpose limitations in Utah law. Moody said his CU has had “terrific feedback from our members because these ads have distilled complex phrases about ownership and tax exemption into something very simple that is humorous and fun.” Gordon Dames, president of the $1.3 billion Mountain America FCU of West Jordan, which has long been the chief target of the banker attack as a “mega credit union” in need of being throttled, said the ad campaign is a “good news” approach. “We like this campaign because it doesn’t concentrate on the conflict or the bickering because the public is totally annoyed with that,” said Dames. “We didn’t pick the fight with the bankers,” but that was not to be the message in the ads. “We simply felt that we simply had to tell our story and the message is `about you’ the member.” In doing the creative for the ads, Utah CEOs praised the work of Utah League CEO Scott Simpson, his communications director Robert Ahlander, along with Summit for coming up with what was described a professional package. Prior to taking the Utah job a year ago, Simpson was head of the Republican Party in Utah and previous to that handled distribution and marketing for a large record company at which Ahlander was an associate. Ahlander said the two spent endless meetings with Summit staff rejecting different ad logos and designs particularly ones that did comparisons with banks or mentioned the fight with them. Though at the time not officially aware of the pre-Thanksgiving launch of the ad campaign, Howard Headlee, president/CEO of the Utah Bankers Association, pounced on the ads as “a waste of money” of league dues because the commercials “will get drowned out” by those from Mountain America and the $2.8 billion America First FCU. Headlee accused America First and Mountain America of disguising their functioning as banks since “you know you can’t even find the name – credit union – in their ads any longer so you know where they’re coming from.” America First said the Headlee claim was utterly without foundation and just another outburst from a CU antagonist and Mountain America said it was mystified by the charges. [email protected]

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