An edgy anti-bank message can work well in social media marketing, but only if it also conveys a better alternative from the company behind it.
Summit Federal Credit Union of Rochester, N.Y., may have missed the mark when it created a viral video called "S*** Banks Say," — in which it more fully spelled out the first word. The promotion pushed a pro-credit union message in the mold of a satirical online video trend that evolved from the "S*** My Dad Says" Twitter account (which was popular enough to lead to a short-lived TV show starring William Shatner).
Summit's deliberately lowbrow video differs substantially from the dozens of YouTube videos spawned by Currency Marketing's Young & Free campaign. Many of those videos, generated by young credit union members, have gone viral and garnered thousands of new members for the 91 credit unions that have participated since 2008.
By contrast, Summit's "S*** Banks Say" video promotes stereotypes of bank employees as bored, rude and ditzy while failing to provide any specifics about an alternative.
The video further stresses that banks charge high and unnecessary fees and are unresponsive to customer service concerns. It ends with a brief suggestion that the viewer switch to a credit union.
"It shows everything that's wrong with your competitor while offering no details on how [Summit is] different," says Emmett Higdon, founder and principal at the banking technology consulting firm Prizm Strategy, in an email.
"[This is] a poorly done rip … and reminds me of negative political ad campaigns," says Higdon.
There are better ways for credit unions and community banks to harness social media to distinguish themselves from their larger rivals, experts say.
One reason that Summit may have shied away from direct comparisons is that the credit union itself levies a wide range of the sorts of service charges that customers loathe —from fees for inactivity to those for monthly account maintenance, paper statements and early account closures.
Nor did efforts to contact the credit union indicate that it is particularly responsive to callers. American Banker spent many minutes on hold on Summit’s customer service line trying to reach a representative. Its call was then transferred to a voice mail recording. Ultimately, a Summit representative responded to a request for feedback about its video in an email message stating that it declined to comment.
"Credit unions need to tread lightly if they are going to do bank bashing, and they better be able to look in the mirror and prove it does not apply to them as well," says Tim McAlpine, creative director of Currency Marketing, a credit union marketing company in Chilliwack, Canada, and creator of the Young & Free campaign.
Young & Free financial institutions select their young spokesperson, called a "spokester," through an online contest in which participants show off their creative talents and their social-media savvy. The winner is hired to represent the credit union for a year, using Facebook and YouTube to advertise the benefits of joining a credit union.
Young & Free's most successful video, crated by the campaign's first spokester, Larissa Walkiw, who represented Common Wealth Credit Union (now Servus Credit Union) of Alberta in 2008, has been viewed more than 150,000 times.
Part of the campaign's success is its educational value. Walkiw's first video explains clearly how credit unions operate and how these differences can benefit members. And when she criticizes banks, she does so in such a gentle and disarmingly charming way that even bankers might even find themselves agreeing with her message.
But times may have changed.
While credit unions are still challenged to bring in new, younger members — their average member age is 47, about ten years older than the average U.S. citizen, McAlpine says — messages may have to become more extreme and less thoughtful to get through to younger audiences who are inundated with marketing messages
"I think the ability of a video to break through today versus three to four years ago is more difficult," McAlpine says.
Still, credit unions do plenty of things well that banks can't do, and they should focus on those differences in their videos and other online marketing efforts, experts say.
"Credit union websites are not very good at pointing to the differences between themselves and banks, which go beyond fees," says Brad Strothkamp, vice president and principal analyst for the marketing and strategy group at Forrester Research in Cambridge, Mass.
For example, credit unions could do more to highlight the benefits of their nonprofit structure. They could also better promote any pacts they have with other credit unions to share ATM and branch access.