Washington Mutual kicks off $30 mil ad effort in Calif., Fla.

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Washington Mutual, the nation's largest thrift, is portraying itself as the big bank with a small-bank feel in an estimated $30 million campaign that broke late last week in California and Florida.

The TV, radio, print and outdoor effort from McCann-Erickson Worldwide, Seattle, touts Washington Mutual's free checking product, portrays tellers as local heroes and shows customers donning cheerleader costumes to applaud the thrift.

A BANKING ALTERNATIVE

The ads position Washington Mutual as "an alternative to banking as usual," said McCann Exec VP Jim Walker.

The campaign follows Washington Mutual folding two previously acquired California-based thrifts, American Savings Bank and Great Western Bank, under the Washington Mutual name. The Seattle-based thrift has $103.1 billion in assets.

The new campaign marks the end of Washington Mutual's relationship with Bozell Worldwide, Los Angeles, which had handled Great Western.

Washington Mutual decided to go with a single name to better create and convey a unified message, communicate convenience and better leverage the brand identity, said Brad Davis, senior VP-marketing.

For Washington Mutual's longtime agency McCann, the biggest hurdle of the campaign was trying to find ways to communicate to a new audience outside the thrift's Pacific Northwest base.

MCCANN'S CHALLENGE

"Part of the challenge is growing up with [Washington Mutual] . . . and trying to look at it through new eyes," Mr. Walker said.

How successfully it sends this message remains to be seen. Community banks often run advertising that portrays their big rivals as impersonal and bureaucratic, and some may try to slap this image on Washington Mutual.

For instance, People's Bank of California just finished a radio campaign that poked fun at a bank that has transferred deposits to Washington--meaning, of course, Washington Mutual. Kalis & Savage, Pacific Palisades, Calif., was the agency for that effort.

"We know there might be some disgruntled customers and wanted to get our name out," said Steve Preimesberger, assistant VP-marketing at People's. "We know some people would prefer the community bank feel to the out-of-state feel."

Copyright July 1998, Crain Communications Inc.

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