Advertising Campaigns Accentuate the Positive

By Mcgeer, Bonnie | American Banker, March 8, 2002 | Go to article overview

Advertising Campaigns Accentuate the Positive


Mcgeer, Bonnie, American Banker


Those punchy ads for Washington Mutual Bank make getting a home loan sound easy.

"Apply today. Hang out with sweaty moving guys tomorrow," says one Wamu poster. Another says, "Welcome to Approval City. Population: You."

The Seattle mortgage giant uses the tag line "the power of yes" in its retail advertising, suggesting that approving a loan is downright routine. It is among a number of financial institutions, big and small, that are infusing their ads with positive messages, and advertising executives say there are good reasons for the tactic, particularly when talking about loans.

"Research studies suggest that people are more likely to apply for loans when they feel they are likely to be approved or when they are less intimidated by the process," said Tal Harry, an account supervisor with the Salt Lake City ad agency Richter 7, formerly FJCandN. Not that this is an entirely new technique. Commerce Bancorp in Cherry Hill, N.J., for example, has long marketed itself as the "yes bank," and until recently its Web address was yesbank.com.

But experts say the theme has become increasingly prevalent as more banks aim to portray themselves as customer-friendly. That approach plays particularly well in challenging economic times, said Frank Mangan, a senior vice president at the New York City ad agency Hampel/Stefanides.

"The psychology behind some of this is that banks are looking to give people permission to spend," Mr. Mangan said.

Because of its size, Wamu is perhaps the most visible of the advertisers in "yes" mode. It also seems to be among the most direct in its focus on loan approval.

But ads for a number of banks, though placing less emphasis on loans than Wamu, are tapping an empowerment theme, using tag lines such as "yes you can" and "I will" in broader image campaigns. They spotlight a can-do attitude, with friendly and understanding bankers who help make loans quick and simple as one facet of the overall message.

In a television spot for the $590 million-asset First National Bank in Asheboro, N.C., a voice-over says, "Once Mark and Barbara Mears had an idea for a new business, which soon put them face-to-face with a banker. But not to worry. The same day they walked out with the money to get it started. First National. Yes you can." Pictures of the smiling couple, who are actual bank customers, and their lighting business, Lighthouse Plus, provide the backdrop.

Mike Miller, First National's president and chief executive officer, said the bank introduced "yes you can" about four years ago, after it entered several new markets and had to contend with heightened competition, including the bigger ad budgets of BB&T Corp. and Wachovia Corp.

Mr. Miller called on marketing consultant Red Pope, now retired, to help create the branding campaign and said he is particularly pleased with the "positive nature" of the message.

"There's nothing in the campaign that denigrates any other institution," Mr. Miller said. "It highlights what we as an organization want to be about."

He said the positioning has been a success from the start. Without disclosing specifics, Mr. Miller said surveys taken before and after the campaign was begun indicate increased awareness of the bank among local residents and a "monumental" rise in awareness of its ads.

First National's recent television and print ads offer testimonials from actual customers, including a man needing a loan to pay for his brother's college tuition and a couple borrowing money to buy their dream home.

Several other television spots feature people from the community holding up their arms to form a 'Y,' as a voice-over says, "No matter how you do the high 'Y', it means 'yes you can' at First National Bank." Mr. Miller said those spots have made such an impression in the area that one couple vacationing in Singapore took a picture of themselves making the high 'Y' gesture in front of a landmark there and sent it to the bank. …

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