First Union Corp. has launched its first advertising campaign aimed at making a national name for itself.
The Charlotte, N.C., company began airing commercials Sunday and Monday nights during National Football League games on ABC, CBS, and Fox.
Designed to reach corporate leaders and wealthy people, the campaign is the most ambitious ever undertaken by $229 billion-asset First Union, and it could indicate how some superregional peers will also be playing on the big-media stage.
"This is the first completely national campaign we've done," said Jim Garrity, senior vice president of advertising and brand management. He would not disclose its cost.
"While consolidation will continue in the industry, we're reaching a point where we need to acquire customers not just by buying institutions but by attracting prospects from around the country to do business with us," he said. "We are national as a company even though the majority of our bricks and mortar is on the East Coast."
Case in point: First Union has 12 capital markets offices outside its home region, including offices in San Francisco, Houston, and Chicago. It also has mortgage operations nationwide.
The company's acquisitions this year of a geographically widespread finance company, Money Store, and of the securities firm Wheat First Butcher Singer Inc. increased the urgency of projecting a nationwide image and presence, officials said.
Brand consultant Lynn Upshaw said First Union is following a trend in which companies are using national advertising to raise brand awareness even when they lack a national retail presence.
Many companies "are simply looking to increase their visibility," he said. "It's a little like a candidate that needs to get their name out there."
The challenge is to make the message consistent over a long enough period to let it fully sink in.
"It takes a long time to build up that kind of equity," said the principal of Upshaw & Associates, San Rafael, Calif. "You need a consistent campaign for at least a year to stick in people's minds and associate you with whatever your area of expertise is."
Moshe A. Orenbuch, an analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein & Co., said First Union's new campaign underscores how companies can become national powers without brick-and-mortar branch networks from coast to coast.
The current campaign is "geared toward the company's capital markets, not its retail franchise," the analyst said. "In some regards this company is more nationwide than NationsBank."
Still, the First Union brand lacks visibility outside the 12 eastern states and the District of Columbia where it has a retail presence.
The commercials will run for the next year on network and cable shows including the news programs "20/20," "60 Minutes," and "Face the Nation," the Super Bowl, and the U.S. Open tennis tournament.
First Union has tried to make its TV spots distinct from other banks'. The San Francisco agency Publicis & Hal Riney designed the campaign, and the spots were produced by Industrial Light and Magic, the special-effects company founded by "Star Wars" director George Lucas.
Mr. Garrity described traditional bank ads as "warm and fuzzy," with viewers typically seeing "smiling people shaking hands." First Union's new spots make heavy use of Hollywood-style visual effects to create a surreal setting in which First Union is portrayed as helping customers navigate a risky and complex world of financial challenges.
The ads show First Union as a glass-and-steel mountain towering above a chaotic financial world. The tag line says, "Come to the mountain called First Union. Or if you prefer, the mountain will come to you."