A marketing consultant in Tennessee wants to help community bankers define themselves.

Nashville-based Millennium III has developed an advertising campaign around the theme "A Real Community Bank." About 70 banks around the country have signed on, and the company is stepping up efforts to get more.

Its idea is to create a common brand-builder or seal, as in the popular national campaigns for milk ("Got Milk?") and pork ("The Other White Meat").

"It's a way to distinguish a community bank from a noncommunity bank," said Julian C. Hester, chief executive officer of the Community Bankers Association of Georgia, who supports the Millennium III approach. "It's something like Ace Hardware-an emblem you can recognize."

Commercials that not too subtly glorify community banking values while bashing bigger banks played repeatedly on television monitors last week at the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas during the Georgia trade group's annual convention.

In one spot, a tractor-trailer barreled down a highway, taking away a community's bank deposits-and a little boy's piggybank.

Another showed a distraught banker confessing to a priest that he is not really of the "community" variety.

A third ad had a customer speaking to banker who is wearing a bag over his head.

Mr. Hester said he is encouraging Georgia community bankers to buy the branding package, which comes complete with advertising and a "Real Community Bank" gold seal, as a way to collectively battle bigger competitors.

The Georgia association is one of 13 state community bank trade groups that are sanctioning Millenium's marketing plan. About 70 banks have hired Millenium, with some sharing space in the ads.

Banks can sign up only through an association, an approach that is supposed to keep away those that are not truly "community."

"We don't want to make it available to large banks," said Robert Wingert, executive director of the Community Bankers Association of Illinois, which bars banks owned by out-of-state holding companies. "It's a matter of getting community banks to recognize the goal-they they need to play team ball in order to get the public aware of what community banking is all about."

The Millennium III program competes with the Independent Bankers Association of America's "On Your Corner, In Your Corner" program, complete with a diamond-shaped seal for office windows and advertising materials.

Monique E. Hanis, marketing director of the 5,500-member IBAA, the biggest community banking trade group, said it did not endorse Millennium III because it was deemed too costly and the ads not upbeat enough.

Millennium III charges from $1,000 to more than $6,000 a year to provide a bank with "Real Community Bank" logos, marketing materials, and print and television ads.

The IBAA offers marketing and public relations materials and logo-decals for free.

"While a lot of bankers found the (Real Community Bank) ads appealing, there was still a question whether it would appeal to the consumer," Ms. Hanis said.

Alan J. Bergstrom, president of the Atlanta-based Brand Consultancy, said "Real Community Bank" can work only if banks effectively explain why a community bank is more personal than a larger bank.

"To just say we're a community bank and slap that logo on isn't enough," he said. "Brand has to have some meaning behind it."

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