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PLYMOUTH, Mich. – On the drawing boards for nearly eight months, the Michigan Credit Union League is launching its most ambitious co-op advertising campaign ever with a goal of cementing “protection from banker attacks” while also pushing a branding theme with a harder edge on the CU difference from banks. The League said its campaign – debuting during the second quarter probably in the Marquette area of the Upper Peninsula – is expected to raise $2.3 million in voluntary contributions to pay for the TV/radio and newspaper spots. An additional $1 million “incentive” fund has been pledged by the League Board directed to CUs in markets that meet specified fund-raising goals. The League said it’s hopeful the additional money would incent greater participation “and increase media weight.” Echoing reasons for its campaign similar to those cited by Leagues elsewhere, the Michigan trade group said its advocacy blitz is vital because research shows Michigan banks continue to push far ahead of CUs as the “top of mind choice” on products. Moreover, banks retain a higher overall public profile over CUs and thus the League campaign seeks to raise awareness of the “value of the credit union difference” to average consumers, legislators and civic and media leaders. While research of 1,400 consumers last December shows CUs have a far better image than banks on customer service, lower fees and loan rates, banks continue to outscore CUs on basic loan and deposit products. “Banks are at the top of mind choice for deposit accounts, personal loans and mortgage products,” said the League noting, however, that the CU image “is decidedly weaker amongst non-members” and that CUs remain a distant second in market share. Because of a still slumping economy in many parts of the state, membership actually declined by 38,628 from 2003 to 4,404,630 at 2004 yearend. Nationally, CUs represented 5.7% of depository institution market share in 1993 and a decade later had climbed only to 6.4%, noted the League. The branding campaign, said the League, is aimed at strengthening the CU “relevance” with the average consumer and on that score “we must reinvigorate the relationship between our product and the consumer.” “Clearly, `good customer service,’ `good rates,’ and `low fees’ aren’t enough to garner increased market share,” said the League in summarizing findings from a survey taken by A&K Research, a Detroit firm it hired. Credit unions, said the survey, are only chosen by the public “when significant advantages over banks are perceived.” Co-op image advertising “together with advocacy and a community reinvestment initiative are the key components of the MCUL’s new vision to protect credit unions and consumers,” explained David Adams, president/CEO. “As the banking industry continues to attack credit unions and turn up the heat in lobbying efforts,” he continued, “it will become more and more difficult to secure the grassroots support of our credit union membership.” Thus, a broadened co-op campaign is now an urgent matter, Adams implored. The League said CEO Ad Kits containing a PowerPoint presentation describing the brand campaign and the “fair share” funding structure were sent last week to CEOs with a request to send in checks by June 1. “Every credit union benefits from cooperative image advertising,” said the League. “We urge every credit union to complete and return the contribution form enclosed with the Michigan Credit Union Brand Campaign mailing as soon as possible” as investments must be received to be eligible for the $1 million in MCUL matching funds. Karen Church, chairman of the League’s recently restructured marketing unit, the Cooperative Ad Forum, said individual CU “investments in the fund may be matched to 100% providing increased buying power to promote” the CU message in local markets. Church, who also is president of the $170 million ELGA CU in Flint, said the matching idea should spur new interest by CUs to buy TV spots at more reasonable costs than in the past. The matching plan “gives us new leverage” in reaching out for new members through advertising. In the Flint-Bay City-Saginaw area, between 35%-40% of CUs opted out of past co-op campaigns, a figure she expects will change this year despite tough economic times underscored by General Motors cutbacks. “We’ve had the most delinquencies and chargeoffs in years,” she said, but ELGA is doing ok “and hanging in there.” Adams said the audience for the campaign not only includes consumers but also community leaders, legislators “and potential lawmakers” as well as media figures since the message of credit unions’ strong value needs to be made “in Lansing.” Co-op campaigns have long been a regular staple of the Michigan League with $750,000 raised at its peak. This year however, said Adams, the campaign is much more focused and centralized with League committees and chapters reorganized for the task, said Adams. Hired to do the creative work is the Berline Group of Bloomfield Hills. While individual CUs still call the shots in local markets, development of the theme and the creative is handled more closely “and cohesively” by the League staff, said Adams. Input and direction are being given, he said, through the Cooperative Ad Forum headed by Church. Lori Z. Bahnmueller, vice president of association services, emphasized that the $2.3 million target is a statewide fund-raising goal “predicated upon TV advertising that can be measured.” “The plan calls for each market to have three, five-week flights of TV spots aired,” she said. “Each cooperative ad group – of which there are seven primary groups – was given a goal based on the money needed to place this TV strategy in their market.” For instance, she explained, Marquette in the Upper Peninsula “is the most inexpensive media market in Michigan” and to place TV ads CUs would need $70,000. But “in Detroit, the most expensive market, we need to raise $1.17 million to run the same campaign.” It was noted the California League had similar problems in dividing up ad dollars ruling out entirely a TV campaign because of the cost of ad buys in very pricey Los Angeles, San Francisco or San Diego. -

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