SAFE Federal Credit Union says it plans to score brand awareness with a locally run commercial during the Super Bowl, when the New England Patriots and the Atlanta Falcons face off for the championship of the National Football League.

SAFE is not the first credit union to run a local ad during the big game and likely won't be the only credit union airing a Super Bowl ad this Sunday. The twist: while most Super Bowl ads are veiled in secrecy before making their big debut during the game, the $1 billion credit union is actually giving fans a sneak peek at several ads and then asking them to help the CU pick which one to run on Sunday.

SAFE Credit Union ran an ad featuring its community involvement efforts  during NFL's championship game.

The Sumter, S.C.-based credit union will run two, 30-second commercials during the game on its local Fox affiliate, WACH. The Columbia market is the 78th largest television market, according to Nielsen, with an audience of more than 400,000 TV homes. Columbia is SAFE’s largest market, encompassing nearly 90% of its membership base.

Toby Hayes, vice president of marketing for SAFE FCU, told Credit Union Journal the NFL’s annual big game is a great way to reach a lot of people at once.

“We have advertised on the Super Bowl broadcast in the past, but it was several years ago and before I got here,” Hayes said. “It was something we wanted to do again because the timing is perfect. We have developed three ads, which I wrote, and we realized we were going to have the ads completed shortly before the Super Bowl.”

The three television spots were designed to be part of a brand awareness campaign for use throughout 2017, Hayes explained.

With three spots to choose from, SAFE turned to the public to help choose which ad will run during the game. All this week, people were allowed to vote on social media. Voting runs through Friday.

The three ads feature SAFE employees and members and depict the “heart of the credit union.” The “Backyard Party” ad is about friends coming together. The “Our Community” spot focuses on SAFE’s community connection and service. And “Air Force Roots” highlights SAFE’s multi-generational history at Shaw Air Force Base and its service across the Midlands.

Hayes noted the project started about six months ago, when he was new to the credit union. Upon being seized by inspiration, he went into his back yard and scribbled out all three of the ads on a notepad.

“I wanted to find the common thread that connects all of our members. Why they love the credit union and why they love the credit union movement, " he said. "These ads connect that common thread visually for our membership.”

SAFE worked with BYM Agency of Overland Park, Kan., to produce the spots.

Hayes and his marketing team decided it would create “buzz” to have the public choose which of the three got the nod on Super Sunday.

“We have been watching the vote and reading the comments, and it turns out there is a really clear favorite,” Hayes said. As of Feb. 2, there already were 2,200 votes, with 2,500 expected by the deadline. “The ‘Our Community’ ad is getting 43% of the vote. Based on the comments on Facebook and Twitter, it is clear why people liked the ad, which has helped shape what is appealing to members in our market. It will help shape our messaging going forward. People are telling us being active in the local community is what they think of when they think of SAFE. It reinforces what people think of and what might attract potential members.”

SAFE Federal Credit Union, founded in 1955, is the largest credit union based in the Midlands, with more than 114,000 members and 19 branches. Membership is open to anyone who lives, works, worships or goes to school in Sumter, Lee, Clarendon, Florence and Orangeburg counties, as well as parts of Kershaw, Richland, and Lexington counties. Membership also is open to employees of more than 500 companies located throughout the Midlands, with relatives of those eligible to join included.

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