Ethan and Joel Coen, the brothers known for their quirky and sometimes bizarre movies, are unlikely salesmen for banks.

But Dime Savings Bank of New York was looking for something different to launch its first television commercials in a decade. The spots made their debut in New York last week.

The Coens, creators of "Raising Arizona," "Barton Fink" and the recently released "Fargo," will help Dime try to attract new customers in the New York area with five commercial spots.

At least four of the five TV spots are indeed Coenesque (more "Raising Arizona" than "Barton Fink"). The ads are for five products: private mortgage, checking, money market accounts, home equity, and investment services.

The Coens are "good at telling a story quickly," said Mal MacDougall, chief creative officer of Dime's ad agency, Christy MacDougall Mitchell in New York.

Having finished "Fargo," Mr. MacDougall said, the brothers were free for a month, and they liked the idea for the Dime commercials.

David Totaro, Dime's executive vice president and chief marketing officer, said Dime, the lead subsidiary of Dime Bancorp, wanted to launch its new slogan, "With You All the Way," and appeal to customers whose banks are closing because of consolidations at Chase Manhattan Corp., Fleet Financial Group, and Citicorp. In all, 175 branches will be closed in the metropolitan area, he said.

Dime, which calls itself New York's only "true hometown bank," wanted to do something decidedly New York. The Coens, although expensive, were perfect for the spot, said Mr. MacDougall. The campaign's budget was not disclosed.

"Yes, they were expensive, but Dave Totaro told me they wanted to go first class," Mr. MacDougall said.

For the Coens, the Dime commercials may provide quick money they can pump into their film projects. The brothers, who could not be reached for comment, were apparently familiar with Dime. Joel Coen financed his first New York home through Dime.

The Coens joins several other prominent Hollywood film makers who have created commercials in recent years. Spike Lee has made commercials for Nike and Levi's, Rob Reiner has made Coca-Cola commercials and Quentin Tarantino has a production company that has produced an unreleased Gatorade commercial.

The Coen brothers are no strangers to commercials, either. An Olympus camera commercial directed by them came out in November. The brothers also did a series of commercials for Bud Ice, said Mr. Devlin.

More and more banks are turning away from the gravely dignified commercials of the past, and opting for fast-moving, entertaining, and generally better-produced spots.

KeyCorp ran commercials during this year's Super Bowl. The Cleveland company didn't use a Hollywood director, but did draw on the experience of its senior vice president of marketing, Julia Adamsen, a former Pepsico executive. The company is about to launch a new set of commercials with Anthony Edwards of the television show "ER" as a spokesman.

Norwest Corp. has used comedian Bob Newhart for the past year and a half to add an element of humor to its ads.

However, straying from the conservative hasn't always worked for banks. Barnett Banks Inc. of Jacksonville, Fla., is within a month of launching a significant new branding campaign through television commercials. A spokeswoman said Barnett is not likely to veer from tradition because it did so a few years ago, and had terrible results.

"We used some nontraditional approaches to advertising and they did not work as well for our customer base and our employee base," said spokeswoman Jerri Franz.

"Warm and fuzzy" is the operative phrase among bankers, said Mr. Devlin. "Most people feel like banks give you an umbrella on a sunny day and take it away when it rains."

Subscribe Now

Access to authoritative analysis and perspective and our data-driven report series.

14-Day Free Trial

No credit card required. Complete access to articles, breaking news and industry data.