If you read or listen to the local media in St. Louis these days, the buzz in banking isn't about job cuts or branch closings.
Rather, it's about the fate of a quirky advertising campaign featuring a balding 48-year-old actor who surprises people by popping out of a hollow tree, zipping up on a riding lawn mower, or walking through a swimming pool.
He's the Boatmen's Guy, mascot for St. Louis' Boatmen's Bancshares. And he's become such a fixture in St. Louis that the town's daily newspaper and one of its radio stations started a campaign to keep him on the air after NationsBank Corp. takes over Boatmen's in January.
The hubbub started Oct. 13 when radio station KMOX-AM and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch began a campaign to "Save the Boatmen's Guy."
A Lutheran church even displayed this message on its churchyard sign: "We want to help save the Boatmen's Guy & everyone else, too."
John M. McGuire, a reporter at the Post-Dispatch, has written several articles about the campaign, even asking candidates for St. Louis mayor, Missouri governor, and U.S. representative to say whether the larger-than- life ad character is worth saving in some form.
The Post-Dispatch got nearly 3,000 phone calls and countless letters, E- mail messages, and faxes responding to a coupon ballot in the paper. Separately, a marketing firm set up a "Save the Boatmen's Guy Web site."
In an attempt to stifle the grass-roots campaign, NationsBank was forced to issue the following statement:
"Although NationsBank does not use individual spokespersons in its advertising, the Boatmen's Guy will play an important role in the transition and in future projects."
In addition, the banking company announced last week it would donate $10,000 to a United Way program in the name of Thom Sharp, the actor who plays the Boatmen's Guy.
KMOX morning talk show host Charles Brennan admitted that the campaign to save the ad character was initiated by some people who "had way too much time on their hands," and Mr. McGuire said the effort soon "took on a life of its own."
Mr. Sharp himself expressed puzzlement at why such a big deal has been made of his character in the Boatmen's ads.
"I have absolutely no idea why I continue to work in anything," Mr. Sharp said in his typical deadpan fashion. "I never once stopped to analyze it."