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Sure it was a stroke of serendipity for the Washington Credit Union League that the Seattle Seahawks made it to the Super Bowl and its credit union awareness ad scheduled to run during the game will be seen by millions in Washington. The league is getting quite the bargain because it started working with an ABC affiliate back in the summer – the station has since doubled the ad prices given that the Seahawks are in the Super Bowl (for the first time ever). The league fortunately got in before the station hiked prices. In fact the credit union ad will be the lowest paid 30-second ad during the game. It wasn’t all luck. In November when it looked like the Seahawks were headed to the playoffs, Washington State Employees CU CEO Kevin Foster-Keddie had the foresight to go ahead and negotiate a final price with the station. Credit unions in Washington that have been supporting the awareness campaign feel it is worth it to foot the bill for ads that will educate people about credit unions. This is great, and other states have done it, but this concept needs to take off on some kind of national level. Everyone should note that the Washington campaign is not supported by all credit unions in the state. In fact, it is only funded by 20 CUs, shared branching firm FSCC and the Washington League. Look at the impact these 22 organizations are having on credit unions in that state. At press time, one league employee who was just giddy with all the media interest the credit union ad was generating from the Washington press, said something to me that really drove home the credit union philosophy – “Even the smallest credit unions are going to benefit from this. That’s the great thing.” Although small CUs aren’t funding it, they too are getting the benefits, and the ones funding the campaign are happy about it! At press time, the league was working with the News Tribune out of Tacoma on a front page story about the credit union ad. Buzz, buzz, buzz. Is there anything better? It’s what credit unions everywhere need – they struck Super Bowl gold in Washington. (Prediction: Seahawks 23, Steelers 17) Continuing on this ad theme, I received a very strong response from the Jan. 4 column calling for a national credit union brand awareness campaign. One CEO who was part of the early meetings on this subject with CUNA and other players years ago, said the famous Got Milk? campaign was portrayed as a failure by many credit union leaders involved in the national campaign discussions. They contended credit unions would be just wasting their money with a costly national campaign. Although Got Milk? brought out the celebrities and the white moustache was very recognizable, did it help milk sales? I did some research, and first let me clear up a misconception out there. The campaign wasn’t started by dairy farmers as you hear a lot in credit union circles. The campaign’s roots and the big financial force behind it came from the milk processors, though the dairy farmers did later get involved and are funding a portion of the campaign today. Got Milk? started in California with the California Milk Processor Board. In the early `90s it was becoming painfully clear to milk processors that milk sales were not just flat, but declining each year. So did Got Milk? work? Absolutely. Not only did the campaign win all sorts of advertising awards and become somewhat of a cult following, it did indeed boost sales. In the year before (1993) CMBP launched the campaign, California milk processors reported almost a 2% decline in sales valued at $18 million. The year after the launch, sales increased over 1% worth $13 million – that’s a $31 million swing. The California processors were alarmed by declining sales and stopped it with this ad campaign, which was later licensed by national groups, the Milk Processors Education Program out of D.C. and Dairy Management, Inc. out of Chicago. The national campaign had similar success. A credit union ad campaign would have a different goal in mind, but the milk story sounds like a good script for CUs doesn’t it? It started in one state, and branched out nationally. Why not take one of the successful credit union awareness programs going on right now out West and get the national players involved? I want to touch on another recent column that applies to some news that broke at the time this column was written. In the Jan. 11 column I urged credit unions to take on the savings issue. Push things like Roth IRAs and high-interest savings accounts. At press time, the Commerce Department reported that the savings rate in this country is -0.5%, the first time it’s been below zero since the Great Depression. I’ve learned that stats can dance all sorts of ways depending on who is spinning them. For example, that -0.5% stat doesn’t take into account 401(k) savings or home equity, and home prices have exploded in recent years. But still, it’s clear most Americans aren’t saving enough. Credit unions can play the role of educator to turn this around and in the process tell their own great story of how credit unions exist for the benefit of their members. Finally, how can American Bankers Association Chairman Harris Simmons expect anyone to take him seriously. His claims of credit unions expanding beyond their mission, getting away with a tax subsidy, and hurting bankers are almost impossible to swallow when the bank he runs, Zions Bancorporation, reported net income of $480 million in 2005, an 18.3% increase in net income for the year. And that story is all too common in the banking industry. Come on Harris, let’s get real. -Comments? E-mail [email protected]

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