A humorous new television spot for FirstBank in Lakewood, Colo., is not only an attempt to amuse the small-business owners it targets. Jim Reuter, FirstBank's head of marketing, says it is also an act of solidarity with them.
As a $13 billion-asset bank in a field dominated by much bigger players, FirstBank identifies with the entrepreneurs it is pursuing, which Reuter sees as a key advantage. "We really understand our small-business customers," he says.
The idea behind the commercial is to remind business owners why they decided to make such a daring new start in the first place, and to encourage others who might be thinking about it.
It opens with a rocket lifting off, then cuts to two astronauts inside. One turns to the other: "If you could have had your dream job, what would it have been?"
"Maybe I'd open my own flower shop," the second answers. "Each day would be different, each arrangement a new challenge."
"Avoid the monotony," the first says.
A caption appears: "Whatever your dream job, we can help." The FirstBank logo follows, with the tagline "Start and Grow Today." (Click here to jump to the ad.)
The spot is part of a campaign, launched in October, that also includes print, radio and mobile ads, along with billboards featuring blown-up images of business cards from some of the bank's commercial clients. "We're promoting not just the bank, but our small-business customers, too," Reuter says.
Though growing small-business loans is not necessarily the main reason for the campaign, FirstBank has been doing just that in recent years. As of June 30, FirstBank had $408.7 million of nonfarm nonresidential loans under $1 million, up from $380 million a year earlier, and $58.3 million of commercial and industrial loans under $1 million, up from $55 million, according to call report data. It used to be far less active in this sector, with just $23.3 million and $10.4 million of these loans, respectively, in June 2008.
In contrast, small-business lending industry wide plunged 18 percent, to $585 billion, in the five-year period ending June 2013, data for these loans from all U.S. bank call reports show.
Even so, giants like Bank of America, Wells Fargo and JPMorgan Chase have been hiring small-business bankers by the hundreds to make inroads in this sectorwhich traditionally has been a strength of community banks.
Reuter says FirstBank can compete with larger rivals on products, including free business checking and online cash management. But it is primarily known as a retail bank and needs to build awareness about how much more comprehensive its services are. That's partly why it decided to do the television spot, its first ever aimed at entrepreneurs. "When you're a consumer bank, it's a logical extension to also be a strong business bank, because customers like to do one-stop shopping," he says.
Another of FirstBank's goals is to establish a humorous "voice" that distinguishes it from other banks, says Jeremy Seibold, the creative director at TDA_Boulder, which developed the ad campaign. A similar tone was evident in previous FirstBank campaigns. A 2011 television spot targeting mortgage customers depicted a harried home buyer, weighed down by loan documents, completely losing his cool. It, too, was done by TDA_Boulder.
For the small-business spot, Seibold's team was amused by the idea of two astronauts having a "road trip conversation" about the different paths their lives could have taken. "Small-business advertising always seems very serious," he says. "But entrepreneurs are human beings too, and they want to laugh and be entertained."
FirstBank's strategy of trying to appeal to small-business owners' sensibilities without touting any products is clever but risky, says Phil Edelstein, the director of brand strategy at the Brownstein Group, an ad agency in Philadelphia.
"From a messaging perspective, the ad is smart in that it doesn't aim to sell too hard to an audience that is wary of bank advertising coming out of the recession," says Edelstein.
However, he thinks letting people know what the bank offers small businesses could strengthen the appeal. "Saying 'we can help' isn't enough," he says. "Any bank can help."
FirstBank likes the broader theme, though. And Reuter is hoping that entrepreneurs aren't the only ones who take a message away from the campaign. He says the intent is not just to drive growth in the business segment, but to underscore for all of its customers that they can find whatever they need at FirstBank.