"People are always looking for a pen to use. The chained ones are often out of ink. It was a simple idea. If you are welcoming, then if people want to take a pen, let them take a pen," says David Clifton, Huntington's chief marketing officer.

Have Huntington Pen — Will Travel

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An unusual marketing move by Huntington Bancshares (HBAN) has taken its brand to the silver screen, a war zone and even into the hands of competitors.

In 2010 the Columbus, Ohio, company decided to replace its pens that were connected to branch counters by those annoying chains with untethered ones that were free to travel home or anywhere else with customers. More than 20 million Huntington pens are now in circulation.

"We thought about the entire branch experience," says David Clifton, Huntington's chief marketing officer. "People are always looking for a pen to use. The chained ones are often out of ink. It was a simple idea. If you are welcoming, then if people want to take a pen, let them take a pen."

Clifton looked at 220 pen prototypes before selecting one that felt substantial, showed the Huntington's signature green color well and had a rubberized grip to support the writer's hand. The company now goes through about 600,000 pens a month, about double that of when the initiative started out.

"Consumer appetite for pens hasn't waned in the digital age," Clifton adds.

Giving away the pens was part of an overall branch overhaul, Clifton says. The company, which has $60 billion of assets, spent about $70 million giving its branches a fresher and more contemporary look. This included installing green acrylic doorknobs that glow in sunlight, Clifton says.

With so many pens going out each month, a few were bound to go on "an unexpected journey" and end up in unusual places, Clifton says.

And how.

Huntington pens were included in a care package sent to an American soldier stationed in Afghanistan, who then gave some away to his comrades. Within a few days, the soldier met Afghan nationals who were writing with the pens.

A Huntington customer who flew to India was met by a customs official who was using a Huntington pen. A Huntington employee had lunch at a table next to a competitor who was selling his rival bank's services while also writing with a Huntington pen.

A Huntington pen even made a cameo in the funeral scene of the movie Bad Grandpa (see it hanging around the neck of the man in the middle at the 1:57 mark of this video clip.) Although Clifton wasn't thrilled the pen was in such a crude movie, he looked at it philosophically.

"Obviously you have no control over that but that's part of the beauty as well," he says. "Your pens will end up in good and bad places, but that's humanity. You don't stop doing things for the good of humanity because there are a few bad eggs out there."

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