CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Who knew that a call for “Hoopty” love would yield such huge results?

Last fall, Carolina Postal Credit Union launched a Hoopty campaign that was part of a unique stealth marketing strategy that resulted in a 325% return on investment.

Defined as a vehicle in poor condition, large often boat-like, and aided by duct tape or bungee cords, the Hoopty is something that at some point everyone has needed whether for a second job, a rural route, or a teenager’s first car said CPCU Marketing Vice President Deb McClean.

McClean said the campaign was not about providing “bad” loans or even titled car loans but about finding ways to meet member needs.

“The idea for the campaign came out of a training meeting with our staff, they mentioned that members were always jokingly asking for a loan for a ‘Hoopty;” said Carolina Postal CU CEO Joy Watts. “We serve United States Postal Service employees and many of the rural letter carriers drive their own personal cars for their route. They often prefer to drive a “beat-up” second car for their route –their hoopty.”

“We’ve had a lot of fun and got a lot of attention with this campaign,” said McClean. “This was really another way to open up a dialogue with our members about what their needs are and how Carolina Postal can meet those needs.”

As part of the unique campaign CPCU launched an I Love My Hoopty Contest in search of everything from “Ugliest Color Hoopty”, to the “Best Utilization of Duct Tape on a Hoopty.”

Throughout the month of November members entered the contest from the CPCU Web site (www.CPCUonline.com) via a banner link to the I Love My Hoopty blog (http://ilovemyhoopty.blogspot.com/). The blog featured a Hoopty rap, YouTube video entitled the “Ragged Ride Blues”, and contest participants’ blogs about their personal Hoopty experience and Hoopty photos.

Winners received a CPCU Emergency Car Kit containing jumper cables, fix-a-flat, flares, and a roll of duct tape. All entries also received “I Love My Hoopty” bumper stickers. Winners were announced in December and many members actually asked for “Hoopty” bumper stickers as stocking stuffers.

According to McLean, direct mail Hoopty postcards resulted in 125 installment loans, the bulk of which were in the unsecured portfolio. In addition, the credit union’s annual loan growth is now at 8.59%.

“Installment loans typically during that time frame averaged 84 total for three months–subtracting out promotions, so 100 was my goal, we exceeded with 125,” said McLean. “The campaign itself was not that expensive–just one postcard, email, banners, bumper-sticker and a statement insert–just under $10,000.”

As for the Hoopty Blog, McLean said that it was free on blogspot.com and was more an investment of time and creativity.

“The blog generated a lot of great word-of-mouth, laughter, and promotion within the SEG base from new employee hires and the Letter Carrier Conferences we attended and the indirect results–the other new accounts cross-sold and opened during that same time-frame to the same member set was 716% ROI,” said McLean. “Our net income on the indirect was actually slightly higher than the direct/installment loans.”

CPCU had over 54 “real” new auto-loans driven by the Hoopty responses. McLean said members emailed or called to ask about the Hoopty Contest then followed through with a new or used car loan.

“And we didn’t have a separate auto campaign running during our Hoopty promotion,” said McLean. “Auto loans in this area have been soft this year, so I was pleased to maintain what we had with 54 new ones and not lose more auto loan portfolio.”

McClean said the campaign is proof that just providing what members really need and want can open doors that help deepen relationships.

“Let’s say they are buying the Hoopty for the teen’s first car, we ask if their teen also needs a checking account and debit card. Do we need to set the parent up with a financial advisor about college costs or a home equity loan to pay college tuition? The conversations just grow from there.”

–mdigiovanni@cutimes.com