Champion spots take a chance on chuckles

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Champion Mortgage still says "yes," but it won't be Chairman-CEO Joseph P. Goryeb who will utter it.

In a new TV effort breaking May 29 for the home equity lender, Mr. Goryeb will no longer appear as the company's spokesman in the national ads. Mr. Goryeb, who according to company lore started Champion in 1981 with just a telephone and a part-time assistant, has been the company's grinning pitchman since 1982.

Instead, commercials for Champion, which is now expanding from its New Jersey roots to both coasts, uses humor to make its point. Interpublic Group of Cos.' Martin Agency, Richmond, Va., which won Champion's account in January, created the integrated branding campaign.

Four 30-second ads humorously show how people in a financial jam can land in uncomfortable situations. In one, a family tries to make some extra money by renting out their basement. A pig auction moves in, which forces the family to do laundry and other household chores with pigs in their midst. In another spot, the father of a bride deliriously confesses during a toast that there is no way he can pay for his daughter's wedding. Voice-over concludes that Champion understands the pressures of everyday life and can help find solutions. "Champion says yes," remains the campaign's tag.

The Parsippany, N.J., family-owned company was acquired in 1997 by KeyCorp. It operates as an independent unit within Key Specialty Finance, a division of the Cleveland banking company. Since the acquisition, Champion's loan portfolio has grown 35% to $7 billion in home equity, and it serves 17 states, mainly in the Northeast, and will expand west with this campaign.

"Right now, it's really important that Champion speak with one voice," said Mark E. Benson, chief marketing officer.

After arriving at Champion last October, Mr. Benson said he reviewed the ad program and concluded the company would benefit from having an agency of record. Until then, it had outsourced assignments to local agencies by market and discipline.

He would not disclose the ad spending for the campaign, but noted Champion will continue its media investment in existing markets. And "as we move to new markets, we will devote resources to those markets," he said. According to Taylor Nelson Sofres' CMR, Champion spent $18.5 million on measured media in 2000.

The ads are scheduled to run on local and cable channels in major markets, which include New York; Boston; Washington, D.C.; Philadelphia; Providence, R.I.; Hartford, Conn.; and San Francisco.

San Francisco was chosen as an expansion market for its large number of households and active mortgage market. After San Francisco, Champion will explore more geographic expansion. "Any market that makes sense, Champion will say yes," Mr. Benson said.

The Martin Agency is also handling Champion's radio spots, direct mail, interactive, yellow pages and public relations.

Late last week, the Martin Agency also landed a new account, camera-maker Olympus, which plans to spend $15 million annually. Kirshenbaum Bond & Partners, New York, was the previous agency.

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