TO PECK AWAY at the competition for car loans, a South Dakota bank has resorted to a marketing campaign featuring a man dressed as a chicken riding in a 1957 Chevy.

Don't start clucking: Sioux Falls-based Western Bank says its "Off The Wall" campaign more than doubled the volume of car loans the bank made last month.

Central to the multimedia drive is Chickenman, a feathered superhero who drives around the eastern South Dakota city in his pink "Chicken Coupe," winging up demand for the bank's 6.9% interest car loans.

As part of'the fowl-and-motor campaign, the bank installed halves of mock 1950s-era Chevrolets on the outside walls of its five branches, giving an impression that's more Hard Rock Cafe than Midwest bank.

A Way of Getting Noticed

"Three are so many ad campaigns out there that, unless you are kind of shocking, people don't notice you," said Brenda Bethke, Western's marketing director.

The barnyard blitz appears to be working: In July, the bank made 410 auto loans worth $3.4 million, a 112% rise over the $1.6 million (224 loans) made in July 1992.

The bank's share of the Sioux Falls area auto loan market also increased, to 13.2%,from 12.4% in July 1992.

To qualify for the low-rate loans for new and used cars, customers are obliged to open a free checking account at Western, which has $298 million of assets. The bank reported a 23% increasc in the number of accounts opened this July versus July 1992 - and that's not chicken feed.

While an ad campaign with a poultry flavor might seem a bit odd for a bank, Western said it was trying to reach out to a nontraditional base of borrowers.

Comic Strip Format

"Younger people don't pay attention to traditional media." said Becky Drahota, president of the bank's ad shop, Mills Financial Marketing and Advertising. "We were able to generate a strong readership among people who would not normally read a bank advertisement."

The bank's ads in the Sioux Falls Argus Leader newspaper were styled as comic strips. In one, Chickenman ("the Winged Warrior of Western Bank") appears in a parking lot to hawk the bank's car loans.

The bank supplemented the print ads by sponsoring daily, 2 1/2-minute Chickenman episodes on a local radio station. The bank delivers its message in a lead-in, trailer, and intermezzo to the episodes.

On Fridavs the feathered mascot makes the rounds; appearing in his Chevy convertible at the local zoo, hospitals, and other public areas.

To recruit members of his Beak Patrol, Chickenman hands out wearable beaks made of rubber bands and yellow paper. He then conducts a weekly Bawk-Off, with $25 awarded to the best bawker.

Chickenman even eschews good taste for what tastes good: In a particularly macabre twist, he hands out fried chicken nuggets to hungry customers.

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