With all the headlines about big bank bailouts, pointing out an alternative financial institution option makes common sense, right?At least that is what St. Joseph, Mich.-based United Federal Credit Union is hoping consumers get out of its latest awareness campaign.“It’s been said for years that credit unions are the best kept secret-except in this kind of environment where we can play to our strengths and meet needs while others are exiting,” said United Federal CU President/CEO Gary Easterling. “This campaign was really a case of serendipity. Our story, the credit union story plays well in this space and gives us a chance to really define the United difference.”Easterling said the edgy campaign’s evolution started early last year as the Federal Reserve started lowering rates quickly and taking extraordinary measures.“We started doing things with our membership, slowly rolled our deposit rates to get more value out to members. On Monday mornings I spoke on a radio program to provide some common sense on the news and put out open letters to members about how we are here to help. Basically, we were just trying to do what credit unions do and realized there was an opportunity here to build awareness,” said Easterling.Turning to Chicago-based marketing agency BKU, Easterling said the witty, new educational campaign helps the credit union stand out of the crowd while informing the public that credit unions are a safe, smart and dependable option that have never been in the habit of abandoning members, especially in times of financial crisis.The series of print ads, which are running in newspapers, feature simple drawings ranging from an outline of a pair of shoes reminiscent of an old dancing primer to checking a pulse to a diagram of the typical brain of an UFCU staffer that is dominated by common sense.Under each image is a call to consumers. For example, the shoe ad tells consumers to “Place this newspaper on the ground and join us in taking a stand for something. Foreclosures are everywhere. Corporate greed has run amuck. Main Street has lost its footing. Who’s looking out for you? That’s right us. UFCU.” It goes on to state that UFCU didn’t lend frivolously, make poor decisions, need bailout funds or gamble with members’ money. Rather the credit union has been offering solutions and assistance.The educational campaign is running in key bailout markets, including Michigan, Ohio, North Carolina and Arkansas, in a bid to build general awareness of the credit union alternative.Easterling said he’s not really concerned with a banker backlash, considering he made sure the ads “take the high road” by focusing on what UFCU is doing during this challenging time.“I don’t believe in shooting people when they are down. There are good community banks, regional banks and even some credit unions that were not directly culpable but are victims of this crisis as well,” said Easterling. “I made sure we went out of our way to be very kind to every financial institution and instead stated the reason why some have exited the marketplace is to take care of challenges on their balance sheet and that our credit union just happens to have a different business model. During the Great Depression when financial institutions walked away from “Sally Worker” is when credit unions got their growth spurt. We have a similar opportunity now, and it is a great time to tell our story.”In addition to an educational print advertising campaign, UFCU has also invested in a Web site, www.UNITEDfcu.com/commonsense, where the public can find more detailed information about the credit union and the benefits of membership, as well as member testimonials, video clip messages from Easterling and links to helpful financial tools.Easterling said he views the awareness campaign as a good way for UFCU to position itself for long-term growth and the site content will continue to evolve and grow.“Our hope is that it really answers what is different about us and the takeaway of course would be to see market share growth. Market share gained during a recession is a lot cheaper than market share when robust,” said Easterling. “We know the number of relationships is thinner now because of the economy, so we hope by building awareness and meeting the specific needs consumers have during this recession, we could build another generation of loyal members. If successful that will be huge-as the economy rebounds we’d get an exponential growth effect.”–[email protected]

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