SAN FRANCISCO - In a bid to get more checking accounts, a big California thrift has adopted a strategy that many bankers shy away from: it is directly attacking its rivals in advertising.
In a campaign that started last fall and has just escalated with a new round of television ads, Glendale Federal Bank ridicules the allegedly shoddy services of the state's big commercial banks and holds itself up as a desirable alternative.
Glenfed invites frustrated bank patrons to switch accounts by calling 1- 800-41-FED-UP. An earlier print ad campaign, which could be revived, attacked by name the state's biggest commercial banks - including Bank of America and Wells Fargo Bank.
"We believe people are fed up with the poor service and long lines in these banks," said Glenfed chairman and chief executive Stephen J. Trafton.
He believes that Glenfed can capitalize on calling attention to competitors' deficiencies. Claiming that the strategy is working, Mr. Trafton said California core deposits were up in the 12 months through March by 22.4%, to $7.7 billion.
A fifth of the new money came from checking accounts. Mr. Trafton added that the growth in checking accounts is crucial because it boosts the $15.6 billion-asset thrift's bottom line.
Like most thrifts, Glenfed historically has relied upon certificates of deposit for funding. A greater reliance on demand deposits accordingly would lower interest costs.
The thrift therefore increased its advertising budget from $10 million to $17 million for the fiscal year ending in June, and directed much of it toward boosting core deposits.
Marketing director Clark W. Collins said Glenfed is using its ads to present a reason for people to switch banking relationships, with a humorous twist.
In one of the first television ads, when a customer asks to change an address on a bank account, a bank employee responds by pretending to drop a pencil.
As the banker stoops to pick it up, he slips through a trap door underneath his desk and ends up in a bunker with other bankers. A shot of smiling Glenfed bankers follows, with the tag line "Glendale Federal Bank. The other way to bank."
The newspaper attack ads, which ran until February, included one that asked, "Be honest, if you left Bank of America tomorrow, do you actually think they'd miss you?"
Another, taking aim at Wells Fargo's familiar logo, suggested that "After spending five minutes with the stagecoach bankers, maybe you'll want to get the hell out of Dodge."
In the newspaper ads and others that followed, Glenfed promoted a debit card that can be used at any credit card-accepting location in the MasterCard network.
Glenfeld claims such a card is not available at the big banks -a big selling point to new checking customers, according to Mr. Trafton.
The latest television ads, which began in the Los Angeles and San Diego areas last month and were introduced in the San Francisco are Monday, continue the theme.
In one, phrases including "friendly tellers," and "no waiting" are flashed on the screen as a laugh track gets progressively louder. A speaker then explains that "the claims those big banks make get a fairly predictable response."
Glendale Federal concludes by offering a year of free checking to customers who switch accounts, and by flashing the 800 number on the screen.
Mr. Collins said calls on the toll-free line have been coming in at the rate of 300 a day. After airings in the Bay area, he expects daily volume of 500.
Marketing experts said Glenfed's ads are a departure for an industry that usually emphasizes security, stability, and convenience. As a result, they could have more impact.
"Bank advertising tends to be unmemorable, even boring," said Mark A. Schulman, president of the New York market research firm Schulman, Ronca & Bucuvalas Inc. "The only ads that seem to break through are the daring ads, or the ones that have a touch of comedy or lightness to them."
But the attack approach carries some risk, said Joshua D. Libresco, senior vice president with Audits and Surveys Worldwide Inc. in San Francisco.
"You don't necessarily help yourself by trashing other banks," he said, adding that attacks can backfire by turning people off to all banks.