Innovation of the Year

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WEST PALM BEACH, Fla.-A man stomping a pillow emblazoned with the word BANK as he lets go of his repressed anger. A banker sneering that when it comes to customers, "You can do just about anything you want to them." Two squirrels talking to each other, with one asking, "Where are your nuts, man?"

The year 2010 may go down as a low-point for credit unions' balance sheets, but it may well mark a high-point for cleverness — often on a shoestring — in spreading the word about credit unions. And for that reason, Credit Union Journal awards its 2010 Innovation of the Year to Credit Union Video Creativity.

The award is long overdue-not because marketing work has been overlooked but rather, with just a few exceptions, CU creativity on a national basis has rarely been worth looking at. Yet something about the recession, consumer disillusionment and anger toward banks, and new, inexpensive video tools seem to have brought out the best in credit unions, which during 2010 created highly effective, often humorous and sometimes biting work that in few cases even received the highest compliment of all-they went viral.


The Creative Impetus

Consider two examples from both ends of the production budget spectrum. In late 2009, Addison Avenue FCU in Palo Alto, Calif., rolled out a seven-part mini-series of spots built around a family staging an intervention with a young man named Carl who has a terrible bank addiction. The ads seemed to spark the year of creativity that would follow.

Humorous, pointed and well-produced, a half-dozen actors are involved in the Addison Avenue FCU series of vignettes as the young man moves from being confronted about his addiction (his father states firmly, "Carl, this bank dependency you have, it's got to stop!"), to denying he has a problem (Carl attempts to grab the car keys and make a run for it), to opening up slightly in front of everyone, including a therapist, while still blaming others ("I learned it from watching you!" Carl says to his father, with his mother cleverly adding as an aside, "You know your father gave up big banks years ago. It was the 60s, baby"), to finally letting go in an emotional venting of his feelings about banks by pounding on a pillow on which the word "BANK" appears.


Stealing The Soul

"I hate it that you treat me like a number," Carl yells at the pillow as he anxiously chews on his knuckles. "Every time I go into one of your branches it feels like you've never seen me before. It's like you don't know who I am. When I pay one of your exorbitant fees it feels like one of your overpaid executives steals a little piece of my soul!"

Readers can find the spots at Addison Avenue FCU, incidentally, is merging with another of the creators of this year's most creative spots, First Tech Credit Union.

Using a far simpler creative approach and a smaller budget (less than $1,000) was Public Service Credit Union in Romulus, Mich., which spurned actors and instead used a watermelon, a bunch of grapes, and stop-action photography to tell the credit union story.

As video shows a single grape next to the much larger watermelon, voiceover says, "The big banks have been rolling over the little guy for far too long. But what can one little guy do? Well, if that one little guy joins a bunch of other little guys, they can make a big difference (video shows multiple grapes as they form a bunch). And if every little guy joined a credit union, the big banks wouldn't be so big anymore, now would they?" (video shows the grapes eating the watermelon, leaving just a rind behind).

Public Service CU was responsible for another clever leveraging of consumer perceptions of banks. In a second spot, which has no announcer voiceover and just jazz playing in the background, a fat cat banker is shown sinking into a nice hot bathtub of cash, and then rubbing it all over his body. Video graphic near end of spot asks, "What are big banks really doing with your money? There's a better"

Here are some of the other creative video messages created by credit unions during 2010:

* In several spots from America's First FCU in Birmingham, Ala. that use similar creative, a banker is shown entering a booth on a street labeled "Banker Confessions." In one spot, a banker admits, "We charge a lot of fees for nothing, and I feel a little bad about that. How do I sleep at night? (Pause.) Did I mention that my bonus check had two commas in it?" The banker laughs. In another spot, a banker looks at the camera and confesses, "Once you get a customers' direct deposit and auto deposit set up, you can do just about anything you want to them. They still won't leave the bank. Sometimes I see customers come into the bank and I'm like, 'Wow, you're still here?'" He also laughs.

All the spots close with, "Refreshingly Unbanklike."


Advice From Spokes-Squirrels

* In Oregon, First Tech Credit Union has turned to spokes-squirrels Chuck and Leroy for a series of TV and video ads. In the ads, Chuck is the ant to Leroy's grasshopper, the former making wise financial decisions (such as using his CU), the latter poor decisions (not using a CU).

*Trumark Financial Credit Union in Pennsylvania created a series of ads that all use a similar, surprise twist. For instance, over a video of a woman enjoying the finest things in life, announcer says, "You made it the best day of her life. Saw that she was pampered every day. Gave her somewhere nice to spend her afternoons. Even bought her a beach house-in St. Martin's. Too bad she's not your wife. She's your big bank CEO's wife. Make your money work for you. It's about you. Your family. Your trust. Trumark Financial. Your trust matters."


An Award Winner

* In this spot, a man wearing a green T-shirt emblazoned with the words "Credit Union" accompanies a family everywhere it goes, helping with getting cash, making wise financial decisions, etc. The ad, from Service 1 FCU, won the video contest sponsored each year by CU*Answers.

* Connecticut's Connex Credit Union kept its "Unbank" campaign alive with a series of commercials using the same spokesperson to illustrate differences between banks and credit unions. In one spot, the spokesperson stands in front of a big bank office tower to show how it compares to a Connex branch.

All of the videos highlighted in this story can be accessed via YouTube by entering the credit union's name.

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