Banks in Illinois, Georgia, and four other states will no longer have to pay for the right to call themselves "real community banks."

Two years ago a Tennessee advertising agency created a proprietary logo that it hoped to sell to small banks to help them distinguish themselves from their larger competitors. But the promotion -- featuring the slogan "A Real Community Bank" -- never caught on with small banks, because of its cost.

Now six state associations affiliated with the Independent Community Bankers of America are giving the logo free to their members, and more state groups soon could follow.

In the past month the state associations of Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Ohio, and Texas have committed to buying rights to the logo for undisclosed sums. In the meantime, Richard Swink, marketing director of Millennium III, the Goodlettsville, Tenn., firm that created the campaign, has been crisscrossing the country in an attempt to line up more states.

"We want to make this the 'Intel Inside' of the banking industry," said Mr. Swink. "If people see our logo on a bank's door, we want them to know that they're getting the personal service and everything else that community banks are known for."

Member banks in states that sign on are able to use the logo for virtually any promotional purpose including stationery, checks, credit cards, or advertisements.

Originally banks had to pay to license the logo and buy tailored advertising materials from Millennium III -- at a cost that could reach thousands of dollars, said Robert J. Wingert, executive director of the Community Bankers Association of Illinois. As a result, only 25 banks of the 550 that belong to the Illinois association participated in the program.

Besides free use of the logo, banks also will get a lower rate on the prepackaged advertising that Millennium III can tailor to include bank logos and rates.

Banks in participating states now can buy unlimited rights to print and radio ads for a one-time payment of $195 and include television commercials for an additional $200.

Banks in other states pay $79 a month for print and radio, or $249 including television.

Though the reduced cost means savings for banks already using the program, Gerald Payne, who runs one of them, is more interested in another potential benefit.

"I hope it means that more banks start using it," said Mr. Payne, who is president and chief executive officer of $38 million-asset First State Bank of Le Roy, Minn. "One local bank cannot get the word out all by itself of what it means to be a real community bank."

Community banks have not worked hard enough over the years to differentiate themselves from larger banks, said James Ashworth, president of Carlinville National Bank in Illinois.

"Community banks are unique," said Mr. Ashworth, whose $161 million-asset bank started using the campaign this year. "People need to realize our role as a local lender to small businesses and how important it is to maintain local bank ownership and decision-making."

Those same themes were echoed in the "On Your Corner. In Your Corner. Your Community Bank" slogan and marketing materials that the ICBA has offered to its members since 1996.

About 1,100 banks still participate in that program, but "it's no longer part of our strategy," said Jennifer Bavisotto, an ICBA spokeswoman. The association is evaluating the direction it wants to take but said it does not plan to work with Millennium III.

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