PALO ALTO, Calif. — One credit union here is publicly staging an intervention to help consumers "kick the bank habit."

Addison Avenue FCU has launched an "Intervention Center" as part of its new campaign that forcefully tells consumers CUs are a better option than banks, as evidenced by the motto "Friends Don't Let Friends Use Big Banks."

As part of the campaign, AAFCU launched a microsite that it labels a "Banking Recovery Center." The site has a banner headline urging people to "Kick Your Big Bank Habit."

Visitors to the microsite at www.bankintervention.com can watch "Intervent-O-Vision." There are seven of what the CU calls "webisodes" dealing with protagonist Carl's "bank dependency" and his on-screen family's desperate attempts to help cure him. The premiere webisode begins with an unsuspecting Carl walking into his apartment, only to find his mom, dad, brother and sister there, along with intervention counselor "Dr. Footh," who we later learn is recovering from his own battle with bank addiction.

When Carl's mother tells him, "We need to talk," Carl says to the assembled group, "Yeah, I gotta go, actually. I have to go to the bank. They screwed up my deposit. I hate banks, but what are you gonna do?"

Carl's father replies sharply, "Carl, this bank dependency you've got...it's got to stop!"
As the story progresses through the seven webisodes, Carl becomes increasingly hostile to banks, climaxing with him taking out his rage on a pillow labeled "BANK" as Dr. Footh says, "Carl, pretend this pillow is your bank."

Robin Boyle, director of brand management and marketing communications for the $2.3-billion CU, said there was a concerted effort "to leverage the animosity" consumers have toward banks. "People are mad at how much executives get paid, how their banks are always charging exorbitant fees. There are many blogs out there about how much people hate banks. So if people hate their banks, why don't they take action? We thought we'd poke fun at peoples' inaction."

Addison Avenue worked with Seattle-based advertising consultancy Weber Marketing on a campaign to increase membership growth by the end of the year, Boyle recalled. She said credit unions "still are the best-kept secret, so we wanted to know how to get the word out. After brainstorming, we decided to take advantage of what is going on in the economy right now and how people feel about their banks."

The banking intervention campaign will be rolled out in stages. The online component includes advertisements on the CU's website, a quiz to determine if you're "bank dependant," and a Twitter contest that will offer a total of four $250 savings accounts prizes to entrants who share their "big bank horror stories."

"Our branches are becoming 'Bank Recovery Centers.' Later on, we will be doing Segway marketing," she said. "That again will be poking fun at peoples' inactions. Weber Marketing is working with a firm that will have 'brand ambassadors' driving around on Segways, handing out piggy banks and information."

The Twitter contest will dole out prizes every other week for the next eight weeks.

Goal to Go Viral
The videos are intended to be part of a viral campaign, with the hope people will find them funny enough to forward to their friends.

"These webisodes poke fun at the idea of intervention. Each one builds off the other. The first one is about a minute long and shows what will be happening. Carl has a banking addiction, and we plan to continue this and see what Carl does next. The entire campaign, including the Twitter contest, runs through November, then it will go on hiatus while management decides what to do next," Boyle said.

And if any banks are bothered by the campaign? "It is all meant to be fun," Boyle said. "We are trying to get credit unions some visibility and we are trying focus on the opportunity of anti-bank sentiment. Also, it is a membership campaign. We are trying to enhance membership."

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