Speak X & Y Before They're Ex-Members & U Wonder Y

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Would you run the ad that appears below? If not, chances are you're feeling fat, not phat, you remember when music videos were on Music TeleVision, and when you read "CUL8R," you actually think it may be a credit union name change, not a way to close an I.M. session.

But First Entertainment Credit Union ran the ad, the shock value of which lies in one word: pimp. The fact is you're showing your age if you are shocked at all; the word has entered the American vernacular in a big way among folks under 30, evolving from a term related to the world's oldest profession into the world's newest verb.

Indeed, as Roy MacKinnon, VP-marketing with First Entertainment points out, "Pimp Your Ride" has turned into a cult phenomenon and is MTV's No. 1 show worldwide and No. 2 show in the U.S., trailing only "Real World." That's important for two reasons: 1) First Entertainment serves, you guessed it, Hollywood's entertainment community, and 2) the ad at right is meant to get into the grill of MTV's core audience, those Gen X and Y members credit unions are always talking about, although seldom in their language. Indeed, MacKinnon said FECU's own research has shown its members skew younger than other credit unions in its peer group, those with $500-million to $1 billion in assets in Southern California (see related research, page 30).

First Entertainment debuted its new campaign Feb. 20 with direct mail, statement inserts, online messages and in-branch POS materials. It further ran print ads in industry publications that included Variety, Hollywood Reporter and Billboard Magazine. As a result, the credit union got what it wanted-auto loans-and what it didn't-letters from upset members.

"I admit I was nervous about pushing the envelope a little too much," said MacKinnon. "This isn't something that would work with any membership. We're in 'Holly-weird,' and if anyone can get away with it, we can. This is a parody; the whole idea was that it was stupid and funny and it worked because it was edgy. It's not your typical auto loan promotion. This is tracking our normal auto loan promotion (response rate). But of any campaign we've done in 40 years, this has also generated more comment than any other. There's no middle ground. Either you got it and think it's funny, or you didn't and think it's reprehensible, which is what one member called it."

Prior to unpimping its creative, First Entertainment did what MacKinnon readily admits was an "unscientific" focus group with staff at Billboard Magazine, "and they loved it. But some of our own staff loved it and some hated it."

In a society in which very small but vocal groups can be offended by just about anything--and are often heeded, nonetheless--MacKinnon estimates that approximately 0.2% of those who received or saw the ad were offended enough to write the credit union. With the campaign meeting loan objectives, it has now pulled the ad, and in a twist on the observation made famous by Abbie Hoffman, MacKinnon added, "One of our board members asked me if I would do it again, and I said yes, but I wouldn't mail it to any member over age 30."

"We may do it again," continued MacKinnon. "We will continue to look for edgy and creative ways to communicate to the future of credit unions, which is members under age 30. We did have one woman say, 'This is great. A stuffy bank would never do this.' I don't have any regrets. So often, our own marketing included, we don't push that envelope and every credit union and bank does the same marketing over and over. I do believe that rate sells, but you still have to look for that edge because everybody sells on rate. After a while with a black-and-white ad that has a rate in it, people become oblivious to it. You have to catch the eye."

First Entertainment is by no means alone in trying to grab eyeballs that won't need bifocals for another 20 years. You may have seen the TV commercials being aired by Volkswagen in which a German automobile engineer goes "?rban" and all but raps the spot's hip message as part of a campaign themed "Un-pimp Your Ride." If you haven't seen the ad, you can find the video on the web. If you were offended, you aren't one of the volks to whom Volkswagen is trying to sell a wagen. In fact, Volkswagen, which during the 1990s had left its old image behind like a rusted Beetle and emerged as a hot brand, has lost some of its cachet, and is now trying to recapture it.

"We've had decent growth in our auto loan portfolio, but after a while people will tune you out," said MacKinnon.

So I ask again-would you run the ad? Or are you being tuned out by Gen X & Y at your credit unionizzle?

Frank J. Diekmann is Publisher of The Credit Union Journal.

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