Using tactics that have become popular with the nation's biggest banking companies, $9 billion-asset Webster Financial Corp. is polishing its image.

The Waterbury, Conn., company has just launched a branding campaign to "establish our personality," said Lynn Sauro, an assistant vice president in Webster's creative marketing group.

Webster is spending $1.5 million to $3 million on advertising as part of the campaign. The ads, which will appear on television and in print, were created by PSK Advertising, a Boston agency.

The campaign began during the Academy Awards last month. The 30-second TV spots, which will run on Connecticut network affiliates throughout 1998, depict ordinary people being frustrated by an unnamed bank's lack of fast, convenient service.

Webster's tag line, "The simpler, the better," is meant to appeal to consumer demands for speedier banking services, Ms. Sauro said. The ads tout Webster's mortgage products, telephone banking, and small-business services.

"We wanted to show that we are in tune with everyday life and everyday people," Ms. Sauro said.

Experts say companies are narrowing their branding efforts to focus on "micromarkets" rather than making broader, thematic statements.

"You want to embrace the customer, speak to them," said Jonathan Bell, a consultant at Interbrand-Schechter Inc., New York. "If you can do that, you can hold onto that customer for a long time."

Branding has caught on among the nation's biggest banks, including $366 billion-asset Chase Manhattan Corp. and $311 billion-asset Citicorp. Both launched their own multimillion-dollar campaigns last year, trying to raise awareness of their brands to the level of Coca-Cola or Procter & Gamble.

But few smaller regional banks have joined the branding movement, Mr. Bell said. He characterized Webster's strategy as a "preemptive strike" against brand development by New England's biggest banking companies, $69.3 billion-asset BankBoston Corp. and $85.5 billion-asset Fleet Financial Group, both based in Boston.

One other, smaller company, Princeton, N.J.-based Summit Bancorp, with $30 billion of assets, also has a branding campaign in the works but is not ready to reveal its details, according to Summit spokeswoman Barbara Horn.

Webster's identity issue first arose in 1995, Ms. Sauro said. That year, the company changed its name to Webster. It had been known as First Federal Bank, the name given it by founder Harold Webster Smith in 1935. James C. Smith, current chairman, chief executive officer, and son of the founder, renamed the company in his father's honor.

Webster has also made a string of acquisitions during the last few years. This month it is scheduled to complete its deal for $2 billion-asset Eagle Financial Corp., Bristol, Conn. "We needed a concise image that would bring together all of those cultures," Ms. Sauro said.

The bank is going after 25- to 54-year-olds with a string of selective, but high-profile, placements. The ads are to run during local news programs and prime-time shows, including the season finales of "Frasier" and "Mad About You."

Webster will also run print ads in Connecticut magazine and in the state's largest daily newspapers, The Hartford Courant and the New Haven Register. Radio spots are still being developed, Ms. Sauro said.

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