California's Glendale Federal Bank has made a name for itself among West Coast bankers with an unusually aggressive advertising campaign.

But do the ads work with consumers? According to company-sponsored surveys, the answer is yes.

Glenfed's advertising agency, BBDO Worldwide, began commissioning quarterly surveys of nearly 1,000 consumers in Glenfed's key markets - Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, Sacramento, and Fresno - in March. At the time, only 4% of the respondents thought of Glenfed when asked to name a bank.

By this critical measure, which is called "unaided awareness," Glenfed was one of the least recognizable names among financial institutions in the state. Bank of America was named by 68% of respondents, Wells Fargo by 46%, and Great Western by 18%.

By yearend, Glenfed's unaided awareness had jumped to 15%. When results for the most recent survey are tabulated within a few weeks, Glenfed chairman Stephen Trafton said he expects his bank's unaided awareness to tie or surpass Great Western's.

"It's pretty incredible," said Glenfed marketing and retail banking chief Robert R. Trujillo.

Glenfed wants to increase its checking account base to improve net interest margins and to make itself more attractive to a potential bank buyer from out of state.

Glenfed's advertising is notable for its unusually blunt attacks on the state's biggest banks, mainly Bank of America and Wells Fargo. The thrift teases the banks in radio and outdoor display ads with often silly claims of shoddy service.

It urges people to switch banks by calling Glenfed at a toll-free number, 1-800-41FED-UP.

Company officials claim the advertising is achieving the desired result. The number of checking accounts has increased 34% in the past year, to 225,000. Average demand deposit balances grew 47% in the same period, to $700 million.

Campbell Chaney, an analyst with Rodman & Renshaw in San Francisco, said most other California banks and thrifts are either seeing a decline in checking accounts, or accumulating them much more slowly than Glenfed. Glenfed, which was on the brink of failure as recently as 1993, was spending virtually nothing on marketing when times were tough. Since its recapitalization and restructuring, it has had a yearly marketing budget of about $17 million.

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