PNC Financial Services Group Inc. is seeking to boost its brand recognition as it prepares to complete an acquisition in Maryland.

The Pittsburgh company is set to kick off the second phase of a marketing campaign today that will use the tagline "Leading the Way" and try to attract more retail, small-business, and corporate customers. It said it will spend 50% more on marketing this year than in 2006, when it spent $104 million.

PNC began working on its image afresh in September. Its $6 billion deal for Mercantile Bankshares Corp. of Baltimore was announced in October and is expected to close this quarter.

PNC, which has assets of $101.8 billion, broke the $100 billion mark at the end of last year. Buying the $17.7 billion-asset Mercantile, which has 240 branches, would bring PNC's branch count to nearly 1,100.

"As we expand, it's very important that we do a good job of keeping that [customer] acquisition funnel full of prospects," Mark Hendrix, PNC's director of corporate marketing, said Friday. "We believe strong share of mind equals strong share of wallet."

In its latest campaign, by Doner Co. in Southfield, Mich., PNC will run ads in newspapers, magazines, the Internet, and television in the Middle Atlantic region and as far west as Louisville. It will run at least through the end of the year, Mr. Hendrix said. He would not say how much PNC is spending or how many customers and accounts it aims to attract.

Gerard Cassidy, an analyst with Royal Bank of Canada's RBC Capital Markets Corp., said, "It's hard to measure the impact from an income-statement standpoint for branding or an aggressive advertising [campaign] other than, of course, the cost." But he said PNC should have the money to spend after its $1.3 billion windfall late last year from the asset-swap involving New York investment manager BlackRock Inc. and Merrill Lynch & Co. Inc.

Mr. Cassidy said campaigns such as this have "to be something that's done regularly throughout the years to keep the brand in front of consumers."

Mr. Hendrix said PNC plans to run more regular campaigns and marketing efforts. Leading up to its September publicity push, it announced Aug. 23 that it would offer free ATM access worldwide for its customers. Later that month, it unveiled a credit card for consumer and small-business customers.

When PNC reported fourth-quarter earnings Jan. 23, its chairman and chief executive, James E. Rohr, described the free ATM access as "an innovation which has led to relationships with 20% higher opening balances." The marketing push, however, is aimed at "driving for value rather than a pure number of checking accounts," he said. PNC's deposits rose 2.7%, to $66.3 billion, in the fourth quarter compared with the third.

Last week PNC bought the naming rights to Lackawanna County Stadium in Moosic, Pa., which is now PNC Field and is home to the New York Yankees' Triple-A team plays. The three-year deal cost $1.1 million, according an article in the Times Leader of Wilkes-Barre, Pa.

PNC was to run two TV commercials during the broadcast of the Super Bowl, its first Super Bowl spots.

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