MADISON, Wis. (1/16/09)--Credit unions are becoming more creative in their advertising, and two credit unions recently shared their experiences targeting potential members through television commercials. Northern Star CU, Portsmouth, Va., aired a commercial this month to promote its VIP Checking. The product offers ATM fee refunds, interest returns on checking account balances, no minimums and no fees. It’s geared primarily toward Generation Y, so the credit union wanted to promote it creatively, Joseph Scharl, marketing director at the credit union, told News Now. “[Generally] when people think of financial institutions, they don’t want something goofy,” he said. “They want something serious. But people have become numb to bank ads with CEOs talking--they get lost in it.” “For a traditional product, you use a traditional message. But this product is different,” he added. Northern Star hired a firm to create the commercial. In it, a man is hit with dodgeballs labeled “bank fees” as he undergoes his daily routine--visiting the bank, using the ATM, and going to a restaurant. The idea for the commercial came from Austin, Texas-based University FCU, which ran a similar ad last year. The firm’s creative director had spotted the commercial on YouTube, and created a spin-off. “I’d love to say we created it from scratch,” Scharl said. The commercial has broadcast only about one week, but people are already talking about it. The $106-million-asset Northern Star will track its success based on how many sign up for VIP Checking. The product’s form asks where individuals heard about the product, and “everyone so far has been saying they saw it on TV,” Scharl said. The commercial airs during specific shows--like The Daily Show--and on stations like MTV, FX, and Comedy Central to attract youth, he said. Advertising on TV can be costly--and the biggest cost is in the creative process. “Shooting the film yourself is the most expensive,” Scharl said. If credit unions can afford it, he suggested using an outside company that is not affiliated with a television network. “The quality of the product will be better,” he said. Although the dodgeball commercial has generated interest in Northern Star, TV shouldn’t be the only advertising medium. “You have to do a good mix,” Scharl said. Kohler (Wis.) CU has been running commercials for about a year. Its most recent commercial, "Tough Times," which focuses on the struggling economy, aired Jan. 8. Lance Tischauser, Kohler vice president of sales and marketing, told News Now he received feedback on the commercial the day after it ran. “It was pretty encouraging, right off the bat,” he said. “It hit home for people.” Although commercials are a “great way” to market specials, the $226-million-asset Kohler seeks to do more than sell products--it wants to identify with its members, said Tischauser. “We look at it in real life, what do people want or need, and how do we meet those needs?” he said. “People need to know we’re here for them.” Credit unions are often constrained by budgets when doing TV ads. Hiring an outside firm, like Northern Star did, can be costly. Kohler’s marketing team brainstorms ideas and works with a local TV network to create the commercials. Kohler purchased a package with the network that guarantees them a number of prime-time slots, though he said show-specific spots can be cost-prohibitive. “If you want to be on during ‘American Idol,’ it’s extremely costly," he said. Media buying is challenging, said Tischauser. Kohler is located in two different counties, which breaks into three cable markets. The credit union can’t afford to buy all three, he said. Tischauser prefers for the credit union’s commercials run during the news, because while many people filter out to cable stations like Bravo, The Food Network, and HGTV, most “funnel back to the network news,” he said. If credit unions can’t afford to run a commercial at peak time, they should consider running one during an off-peak time. “You will still have a reach,” Tischauser said. “It’s a smaller audience, but it’s worthwhile.” Kohler tries to reach the middle-aged--from 25 to 50 years old--with its commercials. “We try to catch people in their lending years,” he said. But no matter how many commercials run during prime-time slots, the No.1 reason Kohler has been successful is because of its marketing team, Tischauser said. The team works on the ideas collaboratively--no one person is in charge. “It has to be a building mentality,” he said. No matter how far out the ideas are, the team will work with them. To watch some of the credit unions’ commercials, use the link. Kohler’s “Bunny Slippers” introduces a new product at the credit union.