Turning its wholesale tradition on its head, BankBoston Corp. is aiming to join the retail banking elite.

Building on the considerable consumer resources of its BayBanks acquisition, $64.5 billion-asset BankBoston is eager to change its image as a specialist in international and corporate banking, said chief executive officer Charles K. Gifford.

"We are going to be the premium brand-no ifs, ands, or buts," Mr. Gifford said in a recent interview. "If we do the job we think we can do, this is the brand that people are going to chase."

This month, the bank launched a multimillion-dollar advertising campaign to spread the word to consumers.

Top executives said the branding effort, begun just one week after the integration of the former BayBanks Inc., would be key to the bank's growth in New England.

BankBoston has an uphill battle. Its Boston-based rival, Fleet Financial Group, has an established retail banking image in New England, according to analysts.

With the 1996 addition of BayBanks, BankBoston gained the top market share for retail banking in Massachusetts. BankBoston executives said BayBanks had a reputation for technological innovation and banking convenience, along with a strong branch presence in Boston and its affluent suburbs.

Mr. Gifford said he learned a lot about the crucial role of branding from BayBanks chairman William M. Crozier Jr., who is now chairman of BankBoston.

"A few years ago, if you had talked to me about branding, my eyes would have glazed over," said Mr. Gifford. "But after a lot of reading up on brands like Coke, and after talking with Bill, I changed my mind.

"Investing in a strong brand is going to be critical in financial services," he said.

The branding program includes a new corporate logo: a blue and green eagle with the date 1784-the founding year of the old First National Bank of Boston.

The green was inherited from BayBanks, the eagle and the date from Bank of Boston, said Karen B. Green, director of consumer marketing. Blue was used by both companies before the merger.

The advertising began June 2 with a series of print ads in local newspapers-including the Boston Globe and Boston Herald - and spots on local radio and television. Posters have also gone up throughout the city's transit system. All the ads carry the slogan, "It's amazing what you can do."

Local celebrities, including New England Patriots quarterback Drew Bledsoe, were recruited for some of the ads, which were developed by Mullen, a Wenham, Mass., agency. Other ads depict ordinary people going about their daily routines.

The campaign focuses on the concept of "linkage," Ms. Green said. Taking a cue from BayBanks, the bank offers consumers the option of linking up to 16 accounts in a single relationship. The links can be to mutual funds, consumer credit products, and even accounts of other family members. The program includes consolidated monthly statements and free transfers.

"It makes banking much easier for the consumer," said Ms. Green. "The hope is that customers will want to have more products with us."

The campaign, if it proves successful in New England, will be exported to BankBoston's other markets, particularly in Latin America, said bank executives.

Henrique de Campos Meirelles, BankBoston's president and chief operating officer, reinforced the point about branding.

In his former role as president of Bank of Boston's Brazilian operations, Mr. Meirelles launched a campaign of his own to give Banco de Boston a catchier image among corporate customers.

Mr. Meirelles, a native of Brazil, changed the wooden furniture hues in his branches from dark to light, better to fit with the tropical climate. In its ads, he linked the bank to New England mainstays like the Red Sox baseball team, the Boston Pops, and Cape Cod.

Before the branding effort, Brazilians looked at the name of the bank and said to themselves, "Boston-that's really far away," Mr. Meirelles said. The advertisements were aimed at making the headquarters city and its environs as familiar to Brazilians as, say, the Copacabana in Rio de Janeiro. After a while, the ads had the effect of "bringing Boston home to Brazil," Mr. Meirelles said.

In two years, Brazilians came to equate the bank with sophistication, culture, innovation, and expertise, he said.

"People dropped the first part of the name and started calling us 'Boston,' " said Mr. Meirelles. "We changed the whole meaning."

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