HIGHTSTOWN, N.J. – As states go, New Jersey and Utah have very little in common, but on the credit union level they both now share Bob, the Credit Union Guy. Bob, the Credit Union Guy is the starring figure in the Utah League of Credit Union’s “The Difference: YOU” branding campaign that debuted in November of 2004. In a cooperative move, the Utah league has agreed, under a three-year agreement, to share Bob and all the factors that went into making the campaign a success in Utah with the New Jersey CU League. New Jersey is even mimicking Utah’s slogan. It will be known as “New Jersey’s Credit Unions, The Difference: YOU.” The effort is being spearheaded by the NJCUL’s Advertising Cooperative Committee, which is under the league umbrella, but runs independent of it. Bob, the Credit Union Guy is actually David Gale, a morning anchor on an NBC affiliate in the Northwest. He is a humorous character who tries to keep the public engaged as well as entertained. The idea behind Bob was to create an everyman that the masses can relate to. This is done by putting Bob in everyday situations talking to consumers in locations such as the supermarket or other common hotspots. Bob’s messages revolve around the ownership makeup of credit unions, their rate advantage, and credit unions’ commitment to the community. While Bob is one of the most recognizable aspects of the campaign, so is a trademarked blue dot with the word “you” inside. Utah League of Credit Unions Director of Communications Bob Ahlander, the primary creative force behind the campaign in Utah, worked closely with NJCUL leaders, especially NJCUL Director of Marketing and Communications Sharon Dilling, to help the campaign get legs in the Garden State. The two marketing mavens flew to each other’s state a few times to work on the deal. Dilling couldn’t say enough about the willingness of Utah league leaders to help the New Jersey effort. It truly demonstrated how far credit unions and credit union organizations are willing to go to help each other, she said. “Scott Simpson is such a class act, and Bob Ahlander and I have become good friends. I’m so grateful to both of them for their kindness and all the help they’ve given us,” said Dilling. Ahlander recently attended a meeting of the NJCUL’s Advertising Cooperative Committee to talk about the campaign. “It’s a huge privilege for us and our league to have you implement the thing that we developed. That it works, is really the point,” Ahlander told the group. When the YOU campaign was launched in Utah, it was under much different circumstances than those in New Jersey. Utah has been a fertile battleground for banker attacks, led by American Bankers Association Chairman and Zions Bank CEO Harris Simmons. Ahlander said the YOU campaign was designed to “build goodwill with the people, prepare them and get them back on our sides emotionally. We needed to brand credit unions in the state of Utah under one umbrella, one message, one voice,” he said. Ahlander stressed however that the league has been careful not to use Bob to attack the bankers. The league has kept a light message of awareness of credit unions, using a sprinkle of humor. It is now planning on taking the campaign a little further about more of the advantages of CUs, but has no plans to turn Bob or any part of the campaign into a vehicle to attack the bankers. As for that blue dot, Ahlander said the league wanted that little dot to become as recognizable as some of the most well-known corporate brands. “We wanted our own Nike swoosh. If we did our job right, people would see it and know what it represented,” he said. The Utah effort has not only seen the campaign utilize the mainstream media channels of television, print and radio, but the league is also active on the community level, including everything from floats in parades to booths at fairs. The Utah campaign is based on a tiered approach, starting slowly and building to a crescendo. He said the idea is to start slow on message and stick to awareness, but advance the message as the campaign goes on. New Jersey plans to stick to that tiered approach as well. At each tier comes a different mix of branding tools. Interestingly, choosing who would play Bob, the Credit Union Guy, was one of the most difficult aspects of the campaign. Ahlander, who has a background in music and entertainment, said there were plenty of local celebrities in Utah to choose from, but the league wanted somebody fresh, someone no one in Utah knew, and someone everyone could relate to-Gale fit the bill. “Even though we have a very diverse population in New Jersey, they are very much into humor, no matter who it is putting that humor forth. Everyone likes a good commercial,” said Ann South, CEO of the $81 million Novartis FCU, East Hanover, N.J. Ann’s husband, Glenn South, is CEO of County Educators FCU, Roselle Park, N.J., and chairman of the advertising cooperative. He said as soon as he saw the commercials that were running in Utah, he knew it would translate in New Jersey. “The approach is so creative and yet so uncluttered. The Credit Union Guy is easy to relate to. He’s friendly and he’s smart. He’s the kind of guy you want to invite to dinner,” said South. Money, Money, Money With any branding campaign, money is always a core issue. Utah started with about $350,000 in its coffers. Credit unions that participate are asked to contribute 50 cents per member to the campaign. When it launched, the participation level was about 55%, today it is up to 62%. The New Jersey effort will have its monetary challenges initially. So far the advertising cooperative has earmarked approximately $100,000 for the campaign. As Ahlander joked, $100,000 in New Jersey is probably worth three times that in Utah where there is really only one main media market. New Jersey doesn’t share that luxury. While not a large state, New Jersey is known to be quite segmented, including two major markets, one being the northern market that is closely tied into New York, and the other is the Southwest market, more identifiable with Philadelphia. The advertising cooperative is asking New Jersey CUs to contribute based on asset size (see sidebar box), ranging from the lowest annual contribution of $250 for CUs under $10 million to the highest of $2,000 for those over $100 million. The league has 187 members. As of press time 32 league members have contributed, with one nonmember, Paragon FCU, also contributing. With those numbers, there is obviously a lot of room for growth. “We have had a lot of start-up problems. Once people see a finished product, I think credit unions will get into it. When the CEOs see it completed, it is going to move forward,” said Diane DeLoof, CEO of the $17 million Research 1166 FCU in Paulsboro, N.J. DeLoof hopes the campaign not only makes New Jerseyans more aware of credit unions, but clears up some confusion. “I think a lot of businesses think a credit union is a labor union. This campaign is going to change that,” she said. “I’m fully committed to it. I feel this campaign is going to give credit unions in New Jersey a face.” The league has also been helping with funding. It is matching funds that the advertising cooperative raises up to $30,000. The last two years the cooperative has raised over $30,000, so the league has contributed $60,000, the bulk of which will go to the new campaign. Dilling said in what direction the campaign will start really hasn’t been decided yet. Starting off with mass-market television or radio commercials might be difficult given its budget thus far. She did say New Jersey will also follow Utah’s lead in terms of where to market. The Utah CU League decided to run the campaign in areas of CUs that contributed monetarily. Dilling said New Jersey will follow that formula. The advertising cooperative hopes to have the campaign ready to go by its November annual meeting, and thus be able to show it off to its other CU members that have not yet contributed to the campaign and hopefully turn them into converts. – [email protected]

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