Breaking Through the Clutter

Slick Ads Help Banks Go After Business

October, 2001

Consumers have recently been bombarded with messages from local banks: Bank of Hawaii Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Michael O’Neill asks them to e-mail him directly; City Bank’s teal bench (symbolizing relationship banking) seems to be sprouting up everywhere; and free roundtrip tickets to Orlando, Fla. with some small-print conditions, are sweetening new Central Pacific Bank offerings. These are just the latest volleys in an increasingly high-stakes battle.

“It’s an extremely competitive market. There are a finite number of players in it who are continually scrambling to take market share from one another and if one bank or two banks are doing advertising, if you are one of the ones that is not, you are probably at risk of losing share of mind and eventually share of market,” notes John Reese, City Bank’s senior vice president for marketing.

Reese says City Bank’s campaign created by Laird Christensen Harris will cost about $700,000 over the course of the year. He inherited the branding campaign shortly after coming aboard in January of this year. City Bank was seeking to establish an identity after merging with International Savings and Loan.

A City Bank market study shows that unaided top-of-mind awareness about City Bank was around 9 percent before launching the campaign in March. He says he hopes to see that number go up by 20 percent or higher when they measure it again in March 2002.“Obviously we’re trying to do the advertising with a wink and some humor to try to break through the clutter,” Reese says. “From our point of view it’s effectively doing its job.” Look closely at the spot on the fishing boat. That’s Reese losing his hat to a business banker’s errant fishing cast at the end.

The teal bench campaign gets a nod from one of the big banks in town. “I think some of the efforts like the teal bench are good ones because they try to put an image in your mind about what it is that the bank stands for,” says Lori McCarney, Bank of Hawaii’s executive vice president for the marketing products and communications group. McCarney, an industry veteran and current head of the National Bank Marketing Association, also launched a rocket for Bank of Hawaii this May.

While she figured she had done every kind of banking advertising across the nation (save buying advertising space on the sides of cows in Colorado), “I never thought that I would ever use a CEO in an ad,” she admits.

The “Tell Mike” campaign consisted of four 30-second television spots where O’Neill urged viewers to send him suggestions. By the end of July about 4,500 comments and suggestions had been received. Almost 40 percent of the comments had to do with branch-related issues such as waiting in line. Fees and rates were the subject of about 11 percent, while 9 percent dealt with Bank of Hawaii’s controversial decision to sell its credit card unit to American Express.

McCarney declined to reveal the price tag for the campaign, but did note that O’Neill reads every submission and that different departments have been tasked with developing recommendations from the comments and suggestions generated by the campaign.

Says McCarney, “So this advertising campaign as it started sort of has morphed into something that is not an advertising campaign any more. It’s really moving into something that’s a way of doing business.”

“I think all banks in general are getting very creative. It’s very competitive out there,” says Wayne Kirihara, Central Pacific Bank’s senior vice president of marketing and corporate development.

Kirihara is tight-lipped about the price of CPB’s new “exceptional service” campaign or how the idea for the tickets to Florida got generated, citing the competitive atmosphere and a desire to keep that premium unique in the market. “Because we’re a relatively smaller bank and we don’t have the advertising resources to constantly make a lot of noise out there, we want to focus on this killer offer and get as many new customers to try us on a core relationship,” he says.

The bank is offering two free roundtrip tickets to Orlando, Fla., for things like opening a $10,000 Exceptional Account. The fine print says customers must purchase 10 nights at a participating hotel at a minimum of $225 per night.

The campaign currently has no end date. Kirihara says Central Pacific has already reached its goals of a 55 percent efficiency ratio and a 15 percent return on equity, so there will be more strategic planning to tighten up the goals of the multi-year campaign, which started in March. And CPB will be deciding on whether there will be a next destination for the airline ticket premium.


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Kelli Abe Trifonovitch