September three mammoth institutions, Merrill Lynch, Washington Mutual and Wachovia, were purchased by Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo, respectively; the ramifications for the economy at large and the institutions are huge, and it will be up to the banks' marketing teams to make sense of these developments for consumers.

Give the perilous economic times, projecting safety and security is key, says Thomas Ordahl, who's a partner with New York City-based branding expert Group 1066. "A [major] bank going under hasn't really been a fear since the Great Depression and hasn't been a criteria for people when selecting a bank; fear is now rearing its head again," Ordahl says. "Banks are now snapping back to the old message of strength, stability, reliability and safety...[rather than] competing on products and services."

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