Do credit unions have a place in provocative marketing campaigns?

Provocative marketing campaigns that push boundaries are nothing new. However, that which shocked the sensibilities of one generation barely ruffles the feathers of the next. The 1991 “Swedish Bikini Team” commercial from Old Milwaukee beer seemed edgy 22 years ago but can’t hold a candle to what airs on television these days.

From the creative minds on Madison Avenue to individual marketing and advertising offices across the country, everyone is on the hunt for the next big provocative ad campaign. The question for credit unions becomes: should we even participate in this advertising evolution (or devolution, depending on whom you ask)?

Credit unions are notorious for their old-school stodginess in lots of areas. In some arenas, such as lending guidelines and operational directives, this isn’t such a bad thing. When it comes to community awareness and branding. However, too much old school can push the new school away from joining, thus severing a link to new members. As noted in a recent article, “Today, credit union marketers must be masters of design, research, data analysis, product development, advertising media, digital channels, public relations and social media content.” In other words, credit union marketers must be true Renaissance thinkers. But how do you balance the old with the new?

The secret to success here may just be calculated moderation. U.S Senate Federal Credit Union failed in this with the direct mail component of its 2012 “Got Big Plans” campaign. Plastering “Got Big Plans?” next to a photo of a particularly buxom woman resulted in angry reactions from members and unwanted attention in the media. The credit union quickly apologized.

Other credit unions have found ways to hitch a successful ride on current pop culture phenomena. Check out credit unions that found creative ways to capitalize on the zombie craze and boost their bottom lines.

There are ways for credit unions to push the limits. Several examples from the Credit Union Executive Society (CUES) 2013 Golden Mirror Awards illustrate this. Savvy marketing professionals that are plugged into what makes people think and take notice can find ways to get edgy without alienating people.

There are three easy questions to help your marketing pass the provocative test (before launching):

(1) Who are your targets—Your targets should drive much of your messaging. You have more leeway with edgy ads if your targets are younger generations. One note of caution, however: trying to be “cool” with your ads is a sure way to turn off the youth market.

(2) Is this something I would want my kids/mother/wife to see?—This is always an important question to ask, especially if you are targeting females. There is a fine line between edginess and offensiveness. Odds are, someone in your family can give you that perspective. Of course, keep in mind that your kids, mom or wife may not be your target audience (see point number one above).

(3) Does the ad match our brand personality?—Do not attempt to be someone or something you are not. You should know what your brand is, what it stands for and what it’s personality is. If your edgy ads move you away from your core brand then you are moving in the wrong direction.

Typically lacking deep marketing budgets, credit unions must instead focus their energies on ways to come across as having unique personalities and creative personas to members and potential members. Finding the right mix of edgy and professional/family-friendly is key. The best way to accomplish this: be real and authentic with your brand.

Mark Arnold

Mark Arnold

Mark Arnold is an acclaimed speaker, brand expert and strategic planner helping businesses such as credit unions and banks achieve their goals with strategic marketing insights and energized training. Mark ... Web: Details