Several banks looking for new and edgy ways to incorporate so-called Web 2.0-style features into their marketing have latched on to online video contests.
Though it seems only a few financial companies have tried it, some common threads have appeared. A bank or credit union sponsors a contest and solicits video submissions, with prizes ranging from cash to job offers.
Analysts say this format offers built-in advantages, notably that it provides marketing content without the overt salesmanship generally thought to be ineffective with younger people.
The format also reduces some of the risk associated with customer-supplied content. Submissions can be screened and hand-picked without giving rise to the accusations of censorship that can occur in venues like bulletin boards.
Common Wealth Credit Union of Lloydminster, Alberta, sponsored a video contest last year as a recruiting tool. It was searching for a spokesperson to promote its brand through Web sites that depend on user-generated content — such as Facebook, Twitter, and Flickr — and are widely used by young consumers. The Canadian credit union said the contest and the multifaceted marketing campaign the winner created have increased its membership rolls among Generation Y.
Tim McAlpine, the president and chief strategist of Currency Marketing, the Chilliwack, British Columbia, credit union marketing company that organized the Common Wealth contest, said the interactivity helps reach customers who otherwise could not "care less about your financial institution."
By encouraging people to produce their own videos, "there's a real opportunity to stop with the monologue and engage in a dialogue," he said this week at a conference in New York hosted by Forrester Research Inc.
The contest, which ran from October to December, promoted Common Wealth's Young & Free checking account and Web site. The credit union has hired the winner, Larissa Walkiw, to update the site with daily blog posts, photos, and weekly video posts.
One of her videos, "The Difference Between Banks and Credit Unions: Part 1," was so popular that "within two days, the World Council of Credit Unions said, 'Hey, can we put that on our home page?' " Mr. McAlpine said.
Common Wealth has signed up 2,010 customers for the Young & Free checking account, with $2.9 million of deposits, and he said most of these customers were referred through the Web site, Mr. McAlpine said.
Traditional advertising campaigns have a finite life span, he said, but user-generated videos offer an "essentially never-ending" marketing approach. The contest, and its archive, can "live and breathe on its own."
Mr. McAlpine wants to duplicate the approach in the United States, and four U.S. companies have already signed on, though he would not name them.
Other companies have tried similar strategies.
Wells Fargo & Co., as part of its sponsorship of this year's Rose Parade, held a contest asking people to submit videos of themselves singing "The Wells Fargo Wagon," from "The Music Man." Though the contest is over, the entries are still available at Wells Fargo's channel on Google Inc.'s YouTube.
First National Bank Omaha, a unit of First National of Nebraska Inc., is currently using an online video contest to promote its high-yield savings account. Customers submit videos detailing their savings goals, and the bank will match the deposits, up to $5,000, of the five people who submit the most compelling entries.
Rajive Johri, the bank's president, said the contest is an "aggressive strategy to compete with the big banks."
Mr. Johri said he expects the entries to remain available online for some time, and that makes the contest more effective than traditional ads.
Cathy Graeber, a principal analyst at Forrester, said letting people produce their own content is particularly effective for reaching a younger crowd because there is "no hard product sell."
"It's the Gen-Y group that's really leading the revolution here," she said.