BIRMINGHAM, Ala.-America's First FCU here has found a formula for producing some of the most effective and memorable TV spots of any CU in the country.

The $1.2-billion, community-chartered AFFCU is now in the third year of a series of television commercials that feature more than a little bit of attitude.

VP-Marketing Phil Boozer attributed part of the success of campaign to the childhood of Paul Crawford, president of agency Scout Branding. Crawford, noted Boozer, grew up in a family that belonged to a credit union and he truly understands the market differentiation.

"It is so hard to interject humor into financial services and still be tasteful, and Paul does a good job of that," Boozer assessed.

The CU's first commercial debuted three years ago and demonstrated a wicked sense of humor. Titled "Banker Confessions," it showed a booth on a sidewalk (on which the words Banker Confessions appear) that draws the attention of a man in a suit. The man sits down, looks into the camera and acknowledges the fees his bank charges make him feel bad.

"How do I sleep at night?" he wonders aloud, before gleefully grinning "Did I mention my bonus check has two commas in it?" A voiceover notes, "Unlike a bank, a credit union is a not-for-profit institution owned by members."

"The 'Banker Confessions' booth spot was cutting edge three years ago," said Boozer. "I have heard that many bankers thought it was funny, and somewhat accurate."

Spurred by the success of its initial ads, America's First later produced a series of spots it termed the "We've Done Our Homework" series." The lead-in line for all five was "We know..." with the sentence finished by deposit accounts, credit cards, boat loans, car loans and checking accounts.

In the "We know deposit accounts" spot, an older couple's "boomerang son" is fitfully snoozing on the couch while they tell his story. The son will be living with them for a month or two while he gets established in the music business, they say, but when he gets rich he will buy them a new house.

To demonstrate "We know credit cards," a newlywed couple is shown in their new house, sans furniture. America's First CU has the best credit cards, which would allow the couple to buy a couch, viewers are told.

The actor in "We know checking accounts" informs viewers he is "dominating" his fantasy checking account league thanks to Total Rewards Checking at the CU.

In "We know car loans," a clearly henpecked fellow desires a new muscle car, but he is afraid to broach the subject with his wife out of fear of a "quick rejection." After research, though, he is ready to take the plunge.

 

'Endangered' Checking

A spot that was unveiled in 2011 appears to be cashing in on the "Occupy" movement, but Boozer said "Endangered Total Rewards Checking" predated the Wall Street protests by several months.

The ad features tearful demonstrators waving picket signs with slogans such as, "Extinction is forever." A bearded hippie dude says earnestly, "We need to wake up and see what's happening." Then, viewers see a sign that says, "Save free checking," followed by a graphic with the slogan, "There is a place where free checking still runs free. America's First Credit Union."

"The way you are going to garner attention is to be different," Boozer said. "We don't want to be like everybody else. And really, doing business with us is a little bit different-unlike a bank, we are cool. It is comfortable and relaxed, and that is what we are trying to get across."

So far, reaction has been very positive, Boozer continued, stating, "People 'get' what we are saying."

"We realize one commercial is not going to cause someone to jump in their car and run down to open a checking account. This is branding," he said. "A lot of credit unions talk about being part of their community, well, we are out in the community for thousands of events every year. The commercials support our work in the community."

America's First is readying the imminent launch of several new TV ads. Boozer said one will promote its student lending, another its student checking, rewards checking (featuring a lady who buys her son a ferret), and auto lending ("fraternal clones" will make their debut).

"We have a great story to tell, and every institution does, but we are very proud over here."

To see the spots, visit: www.youtube.com/amfirstfcu

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