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Rednecks and Tightwads Try to Shake up Bank Marketing

But Most Name Changes Will Stick to Sober Side

By Published on . 1

YORK, Pa. (AdAge.com) -- Finally: a bank just for the Jeff Foxworthy set.

Redneck Bank claims that "bankin's funner" when consumers open a "flat out free checkin.'" That Southern-fried marketing schtick has garnered the online arm of Bank of the Wichitas quite a bit of attention. It's also tweaking the long-held belief that bank marketing is serious business deserving of serious messaging.

Redneck Bank's marketing schtick has garnered the online arm of Bank of the Wichitas quite a bit of attention.
Redneck Bank's marketing schtick has garnered the online arm of Bank of the Wichitas quite a bit of attention.
But with the names and reputations of some of the country's most trusted financial institutions tossed onto the slag heap, some of the big guys are quietly changing their names and smaller banks looking to differentiate themselves or expand are gambling with nontraditional approaches.

Tightwad Bank is among the latter. A two-branch bank with locations in Reading, Kansas, and Tightwad, Mo., it's getting ready to launch online banking by mid-summer. The name alone has already attracted customers from across the country in its first official year as a brand.

"It's generated a fair amount of new account activity just by virtue of exposure in the media," said Tightwad Chairman Don Higdon, citing stories in the Washington Post, NPR and AARP magazine. "The name itself garners some pretty strong reactions, although both positive and negative."

An appropriate attitude
He said while the bank plans a national brand push when online banking is ready, the details haven't been finalized. "We certainly didn't plan the recession, but the name is proving to be self-fulfilling to an attitude which it might be more appropriate these days," Mr. Higdon said.

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And while a surge in tightwad and redneck finance practices may be what the nation needs, irreverence in the banking sector strikes some as risky.

"Being irreverent works in some categories. Energy drinks, for instance, where the Monster brand comes to mind. In fact, the Redneck Bank site is in the same genre as the Monster site," said William Lozito, president of Strategic Name Development, a brand naming company in an e-mail interview. "Names will get you attention, but I'm not sure it will get you business except for a micro-niche segment."

Of course, it's not just about humor and headlines. Banks are also re-branding and re-trenching in a serious bid to win back consumers' trust.

GMAC Bank, for instance, worn by the effects its embattled former parent GM has had on brand value, recently rebranded as Ally. As the name suggests, the bank is taking a "we're on your side" approach with skeptical consumers who are all too used to hidden fees and fine print. The website claims "We're always going to give it to you straight" and its products include no-penalty certificates of deposit and 24/7 access to a live customer service person. It announced its new identity this month via a major ad campaign by Bartle Bogle Hegarty, New York, and Digitas that shows unfair banking practices through the lens of children. In one spot, a banker plays hide and seek with a small child, only to leave him alone. A voice-over says: "Even kids know it's wrong to leave someone hanging when they're counting on you. Why don't banks? We're Ally, a new bank where you can talk to a real person 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It's just the right thing to do."

Trademark applications
"It goes without saying that consumers these days are very insecure. A bank name that allays these feelings is very appealing. Some recent bank and financial services trademark applications make this point: FirstSecure Bank and Trust Co, filed Jan. 7 and Fortress Wealth Management, filed April 8. And Ally Bank ... indicated the rationale for the new name as research 'clearly expressed the need for a trusted bank partner," Mr. Lozito said.

Another big banker, Bank of America, dropped its Countrywide name -- synonymous with risky mortgage practices of the financial crisis. The bank, whose lead creative shop is BBDO, New York, launched a new branding campaign last week touting the mortgage division's newer, simpler moniker "Home Loans," with TV spots telling consumers: "Starting now, Bank of America has a new address."

Will the name-change tactic work? Perhaps, but bank marketers should be wary of the fad potential.

Mr. Lozito advised: "Don't name a bank to capitalize on a short term phenomena. Business cycles come and go, and this one will pass too."



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