Michigan's CUs Look To Spread The Word Via TV

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The Michigan league is offering $1 million to help motivate cooperative advertising participation in its 2005 Brand Campaign, which is designed to raise awareness and protect the industry's interests.

The money will be dispersed as matching funds to local groups that ante up their fair share of ad costs for an aggressive TV/Radio media blitz planned this Fall. Called "Have You Heard, We're Spreading the Word. People Need to Know...About Credit Unions," it aims to heighten awareness and strengthen the perception of credit unions and increase membership inquiries via MCUL's online credit union finder.

While Michigan has had a successful cooperative advertising campaign for 25 years running, those efforts are not nearly enough in an environment that includes heavy banker attacks, said MCUL CEO David Adams.

"Credit unions have always drastically underspent the banks in marketing," Adams said. "CUs have relied on word-of-mouth advertising and scaled back efforts. They have been reluctant to fund campaigns and leagues have been reluctant to push them."

Ad Efforts In Several States

Michigan joins several other state leagues, including California, Utah and Oregon, in stepping up mass media efforts to differentiate credit unions. As part of its campaign, the Credit Union Association of Oregon personalized a campaign originally put together by the Utah league that features "Bob" as its spokesperson for a two-year multi-media awareness campaign aimed at the general public. The first phase was a $300,000 effort launched in mid-November with 30-second television spots filmed in popular locations throughout the state, including the Portland International Raceway, a gym and a grocery store. It was followed by 15-second radio spots of this average guy in average settings talking about how CUs are focused on people not profits.

"The campaign is scheduled to run for two years," said Amy K. Drew, director of Communications for CUAO. "We raised $300,000 for this year and we will do more fund raising for the second year. We hope to get at least the same amount."

The campaign was introduced on the heels of the California league's $6-million public advocacy effort that state and Nevada.

Adams said Michigan officials carefully examined California's plan as it put together a team charged with a statewide revamping of marketing principles that included the creation of the Cooperative Advertising Forum and restructuring of local groups around designated marketing areas (DMAs).

According to the 2005 Michigan Credit Union Brand Campaign Action Plan, the Cooperative Advertising Forum replaced the former Credit Union Market Alliance and is charged with directing advertising and creative strategy, implementing and advocating guideline principles to advance the success of local and statewide cooperative advertising programs and advocating cooperative advertising branding/image efforts at the district and chapter levels.

The new forum divided the state into seven local DMAs based on A.C. Neilson's seven Michigan TV markets, each with representatives who are responsible for establishing investment formulas, raising media placement dollars, and approving media strategies to meet their specific market needs. said Lori Z. Bahnmueller, VP of Association Services.

Preliminary recommendations determined that three five week-flights of television advertising in the Detroit area-the most expensive media market-would cost $1.17 million. The same run in the state's least expensive market, Alpena, would cost $55,200.

Television, noted Bahnmueller, "is still the preferred means to getting to the most people."

"Consumers believe that credit unions are a terrific alternative, but unsophisticated," Bahnmeuller said, adding that the team hopes its advertising spots will change that impression.

Last year, the forum launched a Michigan Attitudinal Survey with 1,400 respondents. Among the results were that 23%-both members and non-members-did not know enough about the industry to offer an opinion. Among the non-members surveyed, 39% could not provide a reason for considering a credit union. Of those who could, initial indications were promising.

Reinvigorating The Passion

"We know intuitively and based on research time and again that credit unions are perceived to have better service and higher customer service ratings," she said. "But what we also found out was that they perceived credit unions to have better rates, lower fees and that they treat people with much more respect than other financials."

But, she stressed, "When they are shopping for financial services, most go to a bank." Why?

"They don't have a passion or the drive to make that change to a credit union," she said. "Our strategy is to reinvigorate that passion."

Without it, she said, credit unions are just going to continue to share the same members.

Bahnmeuller said the campaign includes three 30-second TV spots with 20 pieces of collateral print materials. The plan is for each to run in five week flights, enough to reach all of the households in a particular DMA eight times, she said.

Set in a gym, a restaurant and a credit union, each spot features a spokesperson who tells why a credit union is the better choice. For example, one spokesperson named Charlie says, "I went to the same bank for 20 years. They changed their name so many times, they forgot mine." As he strolls through his credit union, he hears "Hi, Charlie."

The tagline of each ad directs the viewers to lovemycreditunion.org, a website designed to help them locate a credit union they can join.

Bahnmeuller said the restructured campaign will also include post-awareness measures.

The CAF has a centralized media-buying function and employs a universal cooperative advertising investment formula that yields at least the same aggregate amount per DMA as the MCUL dues formula.

Adams said he's hoping for at least 60% participation and as much as $1 million to $2 million in funding from the state's CUs. Among the challenges, he expects, is to convince the larger CUs that already have their own brand campaigns to join the effort.

"For all size credit unions, the opportunity to leverage off of the campaign is pretty good," Adams said. "Those with smaller advertising budgets get the advantage of $2 million to $3 million that they can collateralize and use for their own direct mail pieces. Arguably, it's a good benefit for a small credit union that could never achieve that marketing benefit on their own."

Adams added the ads are "about tying our advocacy efforts as a three-pronged strategy."

Number one, he said, involves traditional legislative advocacy efforts. Number two is cooperative image advertising and related public affairs to get the message out about how credit unions are different. And number three is fulfillment of social mission and the Community Reinvestment Initiative.

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