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ADVERTISING AND MARKETING | AD REVIEWS

Thrift's Campaign Missing Star Qualities

October 29, 1998|DENISE GELLENE

Advertiser: Washington Mutual

Agency: McCann-Erickson, Seattle

Challenge: Put a new twist in the thrift's ongoing "join the club" television ad campaign.

The Ad: As talk show host Regis Philbin leaves a swank hotel, a crowd of people presses him for autographs. Flattered, Philbin begins scribbling away, until the crowd spots a bigger star approaching. No, it isn't Kathie Lee Gifford. It is Beverly, the loan lady from Washington Mutual. Clutching their pads, the autograph seekers stampede toward Beverly, leaving Regis behind. "Let Washington Mutual make a fan out of you," a voice-over says. "Join the club."

Comment: This ad portrays Washington Mutual as a much-loved institution with a sense of humor--an attempt by the Seattle-based thrift to tap into the bad feelings consumers have about most banks. But the spot--the first in which Washington Mutual has used a celebrity--fails to point out what makes the thrift so special. Maybe it provides great service. Or maybe the autograph hounds depicted in the ad are just plain crazy. Washington Mutual says its ad campaign--launched when it converted Great Western and American Savings to the Washington Mutual name in July--is bringing in new checking accounts. (However, deposits in California and Florida, where the acquired thrifts were located, fell by $3 billion to $36 billion in September from $39 billion in March. Washington Mutual says that's because it is discouraging CD accounts.) And Washington Mutual Marketing Vice President Brad Davis says he's received two dozen reports of Californians seeking autographs from thrift employees. Nonetheless, the folksy image doesn't quite square with the thrift's acquisitive nature. Earlier this month, it completed the purchase of the parent of Home Savings. $$+

Ads are rated from $ to $$$$, based on tastefulness and probable effectiveness, with $$$$ being highest.

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