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This ad campaign won awards, but is it outdated already?

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This story is the second in a three-part special report on credit unions and social media. The other two stories can be found here and here.

Credit unions are not usually considered “edgy,” but U.S. Community CU is making a name for itself with a series of video ads that have helped spur account growth and boosted engagement across the Nashville-based institution’s social media channels.

The $202 million-asset credit union’s “You Don’t Even Need a Bank” campaign is centered on a 60-second video featuring a jingle about the credit union, synchronized dancing and more. The spot has garnered 172,655 views, 1,428 reactions, 382 comments and 354 shares across Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.

On top of that, website traffic jumped significantly after the campaign launched. Overall website visits were up by 15%, while new users to the site rose by 9% and the number of sessions increased more than 8%. The campaign also won the 2019 Cut Award for Most Edgy from the CUNA Marketing and Business Development Council in its annual Diamond Award competition for achievements in credit union marketing.

Along with social media, U.S. Community utilized more traditional channels, including TV and radio ads featuring the same jingle as the online commercials, as well as billboards using images of the CU’s spokesmen in “sumo suits” – colorful tuxedo-like outfits.

“Our goal was to gather engagement numbers, including sharing, liking and video views,” explained J.R. Jernigan, the credit union's AVP of marketing. “The campaign told our story, introduced people to who we are, and we threw in some products. We had a lot of people coming into our branches saying they had seen the ad on Facebook or the billboards.”

The spots directed consumers to a landing page U.S. Community created and from there the credit union tracked the number of visitors, accounts opened and more. The CU normally opens 100 to 125 accounts per month, but while the campaign was running as many as 60 additional new accounts were started.

“It is difficult to say exactly how many opened because of the ad,” said Jernigan. “The main goal was to educate people on who we are.”

Asked if the management team had reviewed what worked and what did not work, Jernigan quipped: “Obviously, what worked was having a catchy jingle.”

“I have heard from numerous people who reacted to hearing our jingle on the radio,” he added. “The biggest lesson learned was it is OK to be a little different. The traditional credit union ad is very similar to that of any other financial institution. We wanted to stand out in our market.”

Big banks still a target?

The commercial and jingle lightly target big banks and the for-profit banking sector, praising credit unions in favor of the competition. Despite being a recurring feature of credit union advertising early in the decade following the financial crisis and Great Recession, that strategy has cooled significantly. But at least one analyst said there’s still an audience for that kind of messaging – at least up to a point.

“In the West and in other socially active areas, banks are the bad guys, so it is OK to do anti-bank ads in some geographies,” said Bo McDonald, president of Uncommn and Your Marketing Co. “I think the best ads are based on the value proposition of the credit union and who it is going after. We have some clients that want to bust the banks, while other take the high road and just talk about their value proposition. In any case, the culture of the credit union applies.”

McDonald helped create a similarly themed public relations piece timed to coincide with the Credit Union National Association’s 2019 Government Affairs Conference. The 30-second video was intended to “have fun at the bankers’ expense” and played off CUNA’s “Open Your Eyes to a Credit Union” awareness initiative by inviting people to “Poke Your Eyes Out for a Bank.”

“Our most successful credit unions are not the ones blasting the banks, it is those that have a story to tell, and members that have a story to tell,” McDonald said.

But Paul J. Lucas, a veteran credit union marketing consultant, noted that the USCCU spot – and particularly the video – may be too much all at once and could be confusing to some consumers.

“Overall, it was catchy and kind of fun, plus, if you watch the entire ad you discover some benefits of credit unions at the end,” he said. “The down side was the lack of information. There is no real call to action. Can people join online? Does ‘Open to the public’ clarify that anyone in the community can join the credit union?

“If this is an introductory spot that will be quickly followed up by two or three spots that better explain the benefits of joining the credit union, then this spot makes more sense,” Lucas added.

Lessons learned

Jernigan said the success of this campaign is likely to impact how U.S. Community does future advertising, though one significant change he said is that subsequent promotional efforts will likely also include video streaming.

“For us it was good for organizational morale,” Jernigan said last week, adding, “We are going to continue to see where we can go with it. This week’s NFL Draft is in Nashville, so we created a commercial in which our mascot, Happy Man, is chosen No. 1 in the Financial Draft. We will continue to do ads that are funny and relevant to our community.”

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