Twice a week for three consecutive weeks this summer, M&T Bank mailed crisp $1 bills to 500 potential customers. Until the very end, the bank never identified itself.

The Buffalo-based bank used the six-part teaser campaign to build awareness of its corporate trust division. The first five mailings, sporting the lines "Another day, another dollar -- but not just another bank," contained a buck and a flattering statistic about the financial strength of an unidentified institution.

"We wanted to really build up people's curiosity," said Paul DiMillo, trust marketing officer for M&T. "The statistics are pretty darn good, and we wanted people to wonder who this bank was."

The Mask Falls Away

The sixth and final piece, captioned "The bucks stop here," ended the suspense.

Restating five earlier sets of statistics about the bank's capital and earnings strength, the mailing flaunted M&T's name, a toll-free number -- and another dollar bill.

The hoped-for reaction, Mr. DiMillo said, was: "Oh, it's M&T Bank. I didn't realize they were so strong."

The mailings went to officials at investment banks, city agencies, and insurance companies who choose corporate trustees.

The banker admits to a concern that recipients, many of whom are sophisticated executives in Manhattan, would think the campaign was in poor taste. "These are hard times, and I didn't want to portray the image that we throw around money like it's nothing," he said. "I was worried, but nobody above me was."

Tradition of showmanship

In fact, M&T -- a subsidiary of First Empire State Corp. -- has a tradition of showmanship in marketing its corporate trust businesses that is somewhat unusual.

In 1989, the bank sen out New York City subway tokens as well as door knockers, padlocks, and other novelties that were meant to sympbolize important qualities of a trustee. The padlock mailing, for instance, talked about how secure issuers and bondholders feel when M&T handles a bond transaction.

Mr. DiMillo said the campaign was so effective that it was recycled in the next quarter.

M&T has actively been expanding its corporate trust efforts since that campaign. Its principal amount of assets under administration at yearend 1988 was $2.3 billion. Today the total stands at around $7 billion.

Positive Signs

The direct effects of the latest direct-mail campaign are still under study, preliminary results signal success.

After the first unidentified mailing went out, some recipients called M&T to ask if they were "at it again." (The bank mailed subsequent pieces in the series from different parts of the state so the Buffalo postmark would not give its identity away.)

M&T, formerly known as Manufactures and Traders Bank, has scheduled focus groups with recipients in New York City to measure the campaign's effectiveness.

Meanwhile, the bank's calling officers are actively soliciting new trust business from the recipients of their employer's $6 largesse.

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