Lots of readers disagreed with my suggestion in last week's column that the public would appreciate bank ads that include specifics like check clearing speed, service fees, mortgage points, and credit card charges.
One response - e-mailed from a laptop during an airport layover - hit particularly hard and altered my thinking substantially.
"I am taken by your naive column," wrote the chief executive officer of a New Jersey bank. "Do you really expect banks, or any other profit-making enterprises, to address anything potentially negative in paid advertising?
"Pay for space to announce my fees? Even Burger King wouldn't do that. Give me and everyone else a break."
An attorney for a community bank said that including specific numbers in ads "could be dangerous" from a legal standpoint. "If my bank advertises one rate and then charges a customer another, he may be able to use our ad as a precedent to prove in court that we are overcharging him. In these days in which lawsuits are initiated at the drop of a hat, this is a serious matter."
The chief lending officer of a third institution simply laughed at the idea of advertising fees and interest rates.
"Every loan is different," he said. "There are different risk factors, cash flow data, levels of balances maintained in the bank, and the number of other lucrative bank services used. How can we advertise specific fees and rates under such conditions?"
A marketing specialist put it this way: "Generally the people who would look at such specific ads and try to shop for the best rate are the people we are not that anxious to solicit. If the rates and points charged make a difference as to which bank they will use, their accounts may be of only marginal value to us in the first place."
Despite these comments, most bankers I have spoken with agreed that the public likes ads with some specifics, which add credibility to an organization. By contrast, "touchy-feely ads" that state simply how wonderful and friendly the bank is do little for the organization, they say.
So what can you say in ads to enhance your bank's stature without using dangerous specifics?
The consumer banking chief at Independence Community Bank in Brooklyn said it has had great success with commercials in which its customers give testimonials.
In one commercial, the bank interviewed the proprietor of a motorcycle shop. She rides a motorcycle to work but goes so slowly that her employees call her "Speedy." In the ad, she says that Independence really is speedy in handling her checks and requests.
Some bankers said that if a bank has goofed or adopted a policy that had to be changed, it would be smart to state at the start of a commercial that it has corrected its error. That way the bank can show that it has learned from its mistake and will do a better job in the future. It also shows that it cares enough about its customers to listen to them.
Mr. Nadler, an American Banker contributing editor, is professor of finance at Rutgers University Graduate School of Management.