Many banks will tell you they do a lot of good in their communities, but Citizens Financial Group is saying it louder than most.
The branding campaign that the $140 billion-asset company in Providence, R.I., started in the spring talks about what a noble service banking is and how it is vital to helping communities prosper-just as the country's founding fathers envisioned.
Employees at Citizens do their part personally too, having volunteered more than half a million hours to thousands of organizations over the past three years, as one of the television spots highlights.
It depicts Alexander Hamilton, the first Treasury secretary, dropping in on Citizens' employees at work.
"What are you doing?' Hamilton asks.
The replies surprise him: "I'm cleaning up a neighborhood." "I'm giving away backpacks." "I'm handing out toys for tots."
"What're you? A bunch of do-gooders?" he says finally.
The response: "No, bankers."
The multimillion-dollar campaign uses the tag line "Good banking is good citizenship," capitalizing on the company's name.
"This is about reminding people what banks are here to do for them and what we're all about," says Theresa McLaughlin, the company's chief marketing officer.
Before tapping Ogilvy & Mather in New York to work on the advertising, Citizens asked consumers if they were to switch banks what factors would be important to them in choosing a new one.
In the past convenience and rates figured most prominently, McLaughlin says. Though those factors continue to be important, this time community involvement also scored surprisingly high-insight that helped in developing the campaign theme.
Chris Wall, vice chairman at the ad agency, says Citizens' message is timely, given how the financial crisis tarnished the industry's image.
"I feel like we had a chance to say something unique, to get back to the roots of what banking is all about, to see banking in the best light," Wall says.
Two of the television spots aim to define good citizenship and make the link to banking.
"Citizens put their money in a bank," says a man in one of them.
"The bank lends it to other citizens," says another man.
The spot continues to cut quickly from one person to another, each one adding a thought: "Those citizens start businesses." "Build homes." "Have families." "That's how the forefathers saw it."
Then a scene flashes of Hamilton and others at a gathering in Colonial times enthusiastically shouting, "Yes!"
Jim Perry, senior strategist at the consulting firm Market Insights, says he suspects many consumers in the 12 states where the company operates find the campaign appealing.
"It's nice to put a vision out there that tries to build up the brand of the industry," he says. "I know Citizens does quite a bit to walk the talk too. You don't have to do much of a search to find they're giving a lot of money and a lot of time."
But, Perry says, advertising such lofty ideals is also risky, especially since the U.K. government had to take a majority stake in Citizens' parent company, Royal Bank of Scotland Group, to help it through the crisis.
He worries cynicism could undermine the effort. "A campaign of this sort runs against the headwinds-and pretty strong headwinds," Perry says.
Ellen Alemany, Citizens' chairman and chief executive, describes the results as phenomenal so far, though.
Favorability scores among existing customers are up 20 points since the campaign began in May, and morale is surging.
One employee told Alemany she starts every morning by playing an internal DVD created as part of the campaign. It includes the television spots and a short video with employees talking about what good citizenship means to them. "It inspires her for the day," Alemany says.