Be bold. Inspire confidence. Tread carefully.

That's the advice marketing experts have for PNC Financial Services Group Inc., which on Monday awarded a $100 million-a-year advertising account to Deutsch Inc., a New York agency owned by the Interpublic Group of Cos. and chaired by the CNBC personality Donny Deutsch.

PNC, of Pittsburgh, is eager to reinforce its brand, particularly in the Midwest markets it picked up late last year with the purchase of National City Corp. of Cleveland. But the tenor of the ads will be critical if PNC is to avoid a backlash from taxpayers who want to be sure that recipients of bailout funds are spending wisely, said David Reibstein, a marketing professor at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School.

"It's a very delicate time," Reibstein said. "Some might think, 'They're getting government money and they're spending money on advertising?' But if one views advertising as spending money because it generates business and more than pays for itself, and makes it easier for … [PNC] to pay back any government loans, then it is absolutely what they should be doing."

Deutsch will handle the creative side and the media buying for the new campaign, which will include print, broadcast and online components. Val DiFebo, the agency's president, said the agency will build on the themes of "ease, confidence and achievement." PNC also is expected to maintain its current advertising tag line, "Leading the Way."

Deutsch, headquartered on the edge of Manhattan's trendy meatpacking district, was selected after a review led by marketing consultants from Bedford Group in Atlanta. PNC previously had its advertising business with Doner, an agency based in the Detroit suburb of Southfield, Mich., while National City had been using Campbell Mithun in Minneapolis. Billings from the new, combined account will be more than triple the reported size of the business that PNC awarded to Doner in 2001.

"With the acquisition of National City Corp., our company has doubled in size at a time of great challenge in the financial services industry," Karen Larrimer, PNC's chief marketing officer, said in a press release. "We are confident Deutsch has the experience and capabilities to be a strong, strategic partner as we seek new and innovative ways to serve our customers, prospects, and communities through traditional and interactive mediums."

Deutsch does work for household names including Johnson & Johnson, Kodak, Ikea and DirecTV. It also created a new General Motors television commercial, rolled out after the automaker's Chapter 11 filing. The spot, filled with images of Americana and getting heavy rotation during prime-time slots, offers a frank explanation of the aspects of GM that no longer work and the tasks it must take on if it wants to stay competitive.

PNC and Deutsch declined to comment on their specific marketing strategies or when the ads will start running. But Albert Greco, a marketing professor at Fordham University in New York, said PNC should use the campaign as an opportunity to separate itself from the tarnished image that consumers now have of the financial services industry in general.

"The banks have always used marketing companies to generate more retail deposits, to bring in new customers, to talk about the fact that if you're with us, you get a nice interest rate and a free toaster," Greco said. "It would be smart, and by banking standards almost bold, to use well-established marketing techniques now to really emphasize their brand and their people."

That kind of message might be especially useful in markets where the PNC brand will debut — such as Cleveland and St. Louis — when National City branches convert to the PNC name.

The National City acquisition expanded PNC's retail branch network from five states to 13. Nameplate changes on the doors to the National City branches won't start until the fourth quarter, and will roll out market by market through mid-2010, PNC has said. In the meantime, PNC is using a transitional advertising tag line — "National City, now a part of PNC" — where National City had been entrenched.

The acquisition turned PNC into the country's fifth-largest bank, elevating the company from the realm of midtier, regional banks.

Matthew Schultheis, an analyst with Boenning & Scattergood Inc., said

PNC is eliminating duplicate contractors to generate savings from the integration. But quantifying the impact of less tangible things like advertising will be difficult.

"This isn't going to be a cheap ad campaign, and it's going to be a question mark in terms of how well it pays off," Schultheis said. But on the bright side, he said, given the economy's battering of the advertising business, "now is the time to buy media."

Subscribe Now

Access to authoritative analysis and perspective and our data-driven report series.

14-Day Free Trial

No credit card required. Complete access to articles, breaking news and industry data.