The (Not So) Secret Behind One Ad's Great Success

Credit unions both as a community and individually have hired some famous names to act as spokespersons over the years. Consumer advocate Suze Ormann today. Howard Stern in the 1990s. TV star Chad Everett two decades before that.

But one credit union may have set a record for famous spokespersons with its latest TV ad. It includes Richard Karns, who played Al Borland on Home Improvement. Musician Kenny G. College and NBA stars Detlef Schremp and Nate Robinson. And perhaps because he needed the work, Bill Gates' father. And that's just a partial list.

The video was filmed to announce the launch of BECU's new University of Washington debit card. UW is the third-largest employer in the region after Microsoft and Boeing. It features a dozen famous U Dub alums singing, often badly, the university fight song, Bow Down to Washington. To pull it off required a collaboration between the credit union, University of Washington Athletics, its Alumni Association, an ad agency (DNA), and a production/video company (Colehour+Cohen), in addition to a willingness by all the celebrities to poke a little fun at themselves.

It took three-and-a-half-weeks to complete the filming, with some of the video shot in Los Angeles, the rest in Seattle.

But before the big idea could be executed, another small idea requiring a seldom recognized but large dose of humility was needed first. As BECU said in background materials, "If we created a video that just focused on the new card it would not create the excitement needed to be passed on to family and friends."

Amazing how many CU ads and videos never begin by acknowledging no one wants to watch a commercial about, say debit cards.

But even if you're not a UW student, employee, alum, or even a Husky fan, it's hard not to sit down and watch the Bow Down.

In the spot, which opens with two UW students holding signs, video has been edited together so that the song is sung in its entirety by all the different and famous alums in their natural settings — mostly. Travel writer/guru Rick Steves, for instance, is shown playing a sousaphone — which he played in the UW Marching Band-- outside the offices of his company.

Each shoot took between 45 and 90 minutes. Lyrics and a backing track were sent to each person in advance, and cue cards were on-site. Some, even those who initially had reservations about this public karaoke, sang the entire song, others just sang parts.

And who gets credit for the concept itself? According to BECU Spokesperson Todd Pietzsch, the idea came about in a group brainstorm session and was generated by Sean Flaherty at DNA Seattle.

So how did BECU get everyone aboard? According to Spokesperson Todd Pietzsch, "When reaching out to and securing cast members we placed emphasis on their affiliation to UW and their Husky pride and the fact that BECU is a not for profit, member-owned, community credit union. We did offer some monetary compensation but it was minimal; any talent fee paid was determined on a case-by-case basis."

Each of the participants is being named on a collective donation of $10,000 to the UE Alumni Association Scholarship fund.

Some of the alums won't be recognized by everyone, which was one of the goals, said Pietzsch. The idea is to get people to watch it again. That strategy seems to have worked. In its first week alone, there were nearly 25,000 views of the Bow Down video on YouTube, 17,000 via BECU's website, it was shared nearly 6,000 times on Facebook, and the PDF needed to fill out to get the card became the number-one download on BECU's site. The video was tweeted out by a number of the performers (at one point BECU was trending), and more than a dozen media outlets provided coverage.

Perhaps most importantly, BECU issued 2,101 UW cards in the first week after the spot debuted, up from 1,303 in the 23 days prior to launch. Over the past six weeks, it has issued 13,000 UW Debit cards, including 1,800 to new members and 4,500 to existing members who added checking.

With numbers like that, it may be time to Bow Down to BECU. You can watch the video at www.youtube.com/watch?v=CsAU2-CtIL4.

Frank J. Diekmann can be reached at fdiekmann@cujournal.com.