Community bankers are bristling over a NationsBank Corp. television ad campaign that paints the giant holding company as the hometown hero helping local people and companies get loans.

Launched in September, the campaign promotes the Charlotte, N.C.-based banking company's ability to bring Wall Street products to the Main Streets of towns like Abbeville, S.C.; Annapolis, Md.; Fort Worth, and Sarasota, Fla.

"I think it is a farce," said Thomas D. Sherard, and executive of the Bank of Abbeville. "I don't agree with the message of the ad."

'Dishonest Image'

"It's a warm, fuzzy, and dishonest image," said Kenneth Guenther, executive vice president of the Independent Bankers Association of America. "It obviously panders to local egos and totally ducks the question: Where are they pumping money into and where are they sucking money out of?"

An official of NationsBank brushed off the criticism.

"We don't expect them [community bankers] to like us," said Grant O'Neal, NationsBank's senior vice president of advertising. "I guess if I were a community bank that is what I'd say."

Claim of 'Community' Status

Mr. O'Neal said the country's third-largest bank, with $150 billion of assets, is just as much a community bank as the smaller institutions.

"It is a very community-based organization," he said. "You still have to take care of your customers one at a time."

The campaign is designed to increase name recognition and make customers aware of NationsBank's braod base of services, Mr. O'Neal said.

"In terms of brand awareness ... we are still at a very infant level," he said. "Our company is only a year and a half old in terms of name."

Undeniably Well Done

Community bankers concede this much: The ads are well done.

They are homey sketches of small-town life. The Abbeville ad shows the local football team, known as the Panthers, celebrating its third state title. Another ads shows a rough and dusty rodeo in Forth Worth. And a third shows baseball in Sarasota and a family known as the Pyles sitting confortably on the back porch of their home.

"Because it's [Sarasota], one of the communities served by NationsBank," the ad says. "Which lets businesses such as the Albritton Fruit Co. pick from the widest range of commercial services. Allows families like the Pyles to choose from a wealth of investment options. And provides a single source to help people meet any financial challenge that life throws their way."

Image Campaign

The campaign was created by the Dallas-based advertising firm of Temerlin mcClain.

The ads reach consumers in 1,900 communities oin NationsBank's nine-state franchise.

Richard J. Morgan, president and chief executive of Annapolis National Bank, said the campaign is designed to combat NationsBank's "image problem."

"The perception is that they are a big bank and they are only going to look at credit at a certain level," he said.

Small Businesses Fled

Mr. Morgan said NationsBank customers have been walking through his doors because they don't like doing business with the giant bank.

"Their image in this community is not one of a community bank -- period," said Philip E. Norwood, chairman of Alta Mesa National Bank, Fort Worth. "It's an outsider coming in that really doesn't care about the community."

Community bankers aren't worried the ad campaign will prompt customers to leave their institutions for NationsBank.

"We certainly haven't felt any impact," said Robert Henel Jr., president and chief executive of Annapolis Banking and Trust Co. "I just don't see banks that large serving the community."

"We can be more flexible," said Mr. Morgan of Annapolis National Bank. "We know the community, and the borrower." And, he said, "We know the enemy."

Subscribe Now

Access to authoritative analysis and perspective and our data-driven report series.

14-Day Free Trial

No credit card required. Complete access to articles, breaking news and industry data.