USAA Touts Bailout-Free Banking in Latest Marketing

Company Launches $25 Million Effort to Widen Base

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CHICAGO ( -- Many financial-services marketers are touting their stability in appeals to jittery consumers these days, but USAA is proposing a new litmus test in its upcoming campaign: If it took a bailout, it isn't stable.


USAA's new campaign will begin running on TV, radio, daily newspapers, out of home, paid-search sites and even coffee-cup sleeves this week.

"They charged you $38 billion in fees, and some still needed a bailout," reads one upcoming ad. "We believe the only banks that can claim financial stability are ones like USAA that didn't take a dime in TARP funds."

Another salvo: "USAA didn't need a bailout. Which means we've saved you money already."

The campaign -- from Interpublic's Campbell-Ewald -- will begin running on TV, radio, daily newspapers, out of home, paid-search sites and even coffee-cup sleeves this week. One source pegged media spending at about $25 million, which would be a roughly 250% increase from the $7.2 million USAA spent last year, according to TNS Media Intelligence.

That spending represents a remarkably wide net for a financial-services company that sells its insurance, investment and banking products primarily to military families. The underlying stability pitch has been echoed by bigger-budgeted marketers throughout the sector.

But USAA wants those claims to be viewed through the prism of whether the company took bailout funds. That would bode well for a company such as Allstate, which said no thanks, and not so well for the likes of Bank of America. "It's a question of credibility," said Campbell-Ewald President Kathleen Donald. "A lot of people make claims [of stability], but they can't do it as credibly."

It's a stark reminder of the misstep by marketers such as Northern Trust, Goldman Sachs and American Express, which took TARP money but now say they didn't need it and are attempting to pay it back. USAA, which competes with all three in its various lines of business, is also moving to remind its current customers of the course it took. In an e-mail to customers about the new campaign that went out today, CEO Joe Robles said, "It has been a tough time for the financial-services industry, but USAA was profitable in 2008 and continues to be in 2009. We did not take a cent of government bailout money."

Campbell-Ewald, of course, would be unable to make a similar ad for its largest client, auto-bailout staple General Motors, which declared bankruptcy Monday, disclosing that it owed Interpublic agencies -- presumably including Campbell-Ewald -- $15.9 million. The boost in spending by USAA, coupled with the agency's recent successful defense of the U.S. Navy's ad account, figures to soften the financial blow from GM's woes somewhat.

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Maura Wall contributed to this report.

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