BankUnited is hoping the best way to a customer's wallet is through their stomach.

The Miami Lakes, Fla., company handed out free soft serve ice cream at its three new branches in Manhattan earlier this week. The promotion was part of a push to build the company's brand and name recognition in New York, says Mary Harris, BankUnited's senior vice president of marketing and public relations.

"The response was overwhelming," Harris says. "Crowds of people were swarming."

Some employees of the $12.2 billion-asset company handed out free metro cards for the subway, while others dressed in BankUnited blue leotards distributed promotional materials. Still, the ice cream was the most popular draw with more than 3,600 cones handed out and causing lines to form around the block, Harris says.

The promotion didn't necessarily translate into new accounts but that wasn't the point, Harris says. "This was about pure branding awareness," she says. "Everyone loves ice cream."

BankUnited rented three trucks from Mister Softee, a popular ice cream truck company in the Northeast, and covered the vehicles with a customized wrap that included the banking company's colors and logo.

John Kanas, BankUnited's chairman and chief executive, stopped by one of the locations during the event for his own vanilla cone and to chat with those waiting in line. "He is very hands on," Harris says.

BankUnited has used bold campaigns before to expand its management team. Earlier this year it used online sales pitch titled "An Open Letter to Bankers in America" that began with "Spinning your wheels in the wrong place?" and allowed prospective hires to upload resumes.

The company opened the three Midtown branches during the first quarter and April and a fourth in Melville, N.Y., in March. The company entered New York last year after buying Herald National Bank but its plans to aggressively expand in the city were delayed after Capital One (COF), Kanas's former employer, filed a lawsuit claiming that he violated a noncompete agreement. The suit was settled with BankUnited being barred from opening new branches until February.

An activist group has also fought the company's expansion, claiming that BankUnited hasn't made enough loans to low- and moderate-income borrowers and African Americans in two Florida counties. Kanas previously denied those allegations.

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