There are many reasons why Toronto Dominion Bank Financial Group snatched Commerce Bancorp last year: a customer base that extends up and down the East Coast and $5 billion in total assets not the least of the reasons.
For the acquisition to work, however, TD can't alienate the old Commerce customers, most of whom liked their old bank and don't want change. "The primary focus is to say: Nothing has changed, it's only gotten better," says TD Bank's Chief Marketing Officer John Cunningham. "One of the things our customers told us at Commerce when the deal was announced was, 'That's all well and good, just don't take anything away; don't change anything.' Fortunately, TD, our new parent, had the wherewithal to realize that these things truly are beneficial."
To assuage these concerns, TD has adopted the slogan, "America's Most Convenient Bank", which was Commerce's slogan since 1996. Starting on Nov. 1, Commerce Bank and TD Banknorth branches in the Mid-Atlantic region (which the bank defines as southern Connecticut all the way down to Florida) switched over to the institution's new master brand, TD Bank. The Mid-Atlantic phase, which cost upwards of $20 million, was produced by Philadelphia-based Tierney Communications; it will attempt to build TD's brand in Washington D.C., Philadelphia, Virginia and Florida. This is the first of a two-phase launch; the second, starting September 2009 when all systems integrations will be complete, will focus on the New England/TD Banknorth territory.
In a true sense of partnership, TD has relied heavily on Commerce throughout this transition, which is epitomized by the fact that Cunningham, a 20-year veteran of Commerce, was tapped to lead this brand-building campaign.
"I would tell you that most people that you mention TD to react most recognizably and most favorably to TD Ameritrade, which is a very recognizable brand and they've spent a fair amount of dough on marketing themselves and they do a very good job; so they've created brand awareness," he says. "It's my objective and my mission in life to not only retain the existing Commerce customers and assure them everything's OK, but also to now build the TD brand in this marketplace to the strength that Commerce enjoyed over a number of years. Fortunately, having been involved in the Commerce part of that, I think I'm well positioned to know how to do it."
In the case of TD, which has been active in the M&A market, this "one-house" strategy makes sense, says Frédéric Brunel, assistant professor of marketing at Boston University. "They are trying to build the global brand," he says. "Eventually there's an argument to be made to really have more of a branded house, as opposed to a house of brands."
Also coming over from Commerce are TV stars Regis Philbin and Kelly Ripa of the popular daytime talk show "Live With Regis and Kelly". It just so happens that as Commerce was working out an extension to Philbin and Ripa's two-year contracts, TD bought the company. "We went to them and told them what TD represented and what the company was all about and they were very amiable and agreeable," Cunningham says. "We felt it was critically important to us from a transition point of view, another way to reassure customers that things were remaining the same with this new launch."
While Philbin and Ripa do not exude financial knowledge, the idea of continuity works, Brunel says. "By not altering some of the elements of this marketing mix, you're able to build that bridge to the past and the acquisition is a little more seamless that way."
In one TV spot, Philbin is seen lying back on a green couch in what seems like a psychiatrist's office, which turns out to be a TD Bank branch. He says (speaking in the third person): "Regis doesn't like change. Regis is getting nervous." A man sitting next to him says, "OK, let's just relax; we can work through this. Are the faces the same?" Philbin: "Yeah." Man: "Are you being treated any differently?" Philbin: "No, you're still here for me." The man reclines back in his chair: "Is anything being taken from you?" Philbin: "No, in fact I'm getting even more."