Scout Branding in Birmingham has won a nationwide reputation
07/13/2010 04:11 pm
Birmingham-based America's First Federal Credit Union, created to serve steelworkers in the 1930s, took its rivalry with banks to a humorous level this year with a series of television commercials created by advertising veteran Paul Crawford.
Crawford, president and creative director of Scout Branding at 216 29th St. South, came up with a campaign for America's First that pokes fun at bank fees, which critics say are too high. The five 30-second spots, mostly filmed in Los Angeles using unknown actors, have aired several times on Alabama television stations where the credit union has a presence.
The commercials gained national exposure last month when the New York Times featured them in an article about how some credit unions have shaken off dull advertising strategies and grown bolder in promoting themselves.
The America's First ads are centered around a common theme: Actors posing as bankers who enter a booth that says, "Banker Confessions Taken Here," and confess their guilt about hidden fees and charges.
In one commercial, a woman says it was her idea "to jack up fees and lower services," then boasts about the perks she received. In another, a man admits that his bank charges "a lot of fees for nothing."
Then he says, "How do I sleep at night? Did I mention that my bonus check had two commas in it?"
Each ad ends with the tag line, "America's First Federal Credit Union -- refreshingly unbank like."
Crawford and America's First officials say the attention gave an immediate boost to traffic on both Scout Branding and the credit union's websites, and generated calls nationally. "We had told America's First that this might get national attention because it is in your face compared to typical credit union ads," Crawford said.
It's not the first time that Scout Branding, a five-person firm Crawford founded in 2006 after spending nearly a decade at major advertising firms in Boston, Atlanta and Nashville, has made waves. In 2007, Crawford created a television, print and online anti-scam campaign for the U.S. Postal Service that aired in major publications and television stations across the country. Those humorous spots played off familiar scams, including a foreign lottery scam featuring a man speaking in broken English.
Right actors are key
Crawford, whose client base includes Alagasco, Children's Hospital and Baptist Health System, said finding the right actors is critical for a successful commercial.
"We looked at probably 200 actors before deciding on the five we used in the America's First campaign," he said. "It took a lot of work. We put in six weeks of production before showing it to them."
Crawford said America's First's marketing chief, Phil Boozer, and Chief Executive David Adcock knew the campaign "was out of the norm from what they had done," but were willing to take a chance.
Boozer said the commercials paid off and accomplished their goals.
"These commercial let people know what we do as a credit union by showing them what we don't do in a fun and humorous way," he said.
Crawford said Scout Branding has benefited from a good team that allows it to accomplish many of the things that a bigger firm can.
"We don't have a lot of layers of management that the bigger firms do and it allows us to get things done quicker and smarter," he said.
Still, Crawford acknowledges that his firm, like many others, has been affected by the economic downturn.
"We weren't hit as hard as most others are because we have always operated on a lean staff," he said. "We could probably be twice in size but choose to remain small. The firms who can deliver good ideas on budget and on time will be OK."