Amid turbulence, banks ads pitch stability
Anticipating a long road of financial instability and growing consumer nervousness about the health of the banking industry and (today's plunging) stock market, a number financial institutions are honing in on a very specific message in their advertising. Don't worry. We're okay. You're okay.
Will it work? It can't hurt in these stressful economic times. Consider the banking ads that appeared in local newspapers, including the St. Petersburg Times, today and over the weekend. "With Regions, you can expect more stability," says the headline for Alabama-based Regions Bank, one of the top five banking players in Florida. The ad focuses on the bank's strong capital base, its FDIC membership and the familiarity of its name here. It does not remind readers that its stock has dropped in half, to about $12 a share, since May.
Better yet is the "new" Washington Mutual ad -- new since the giant, troubled savings institution was purchased with government help by JPMorgan Chase. Now the local WaMu ad pitches "Free Checking" as usual but has this new headline: "Now with free peace of mind." It credits the strength of its new owner and concludes: "See, things are looking brighter already." Online, WaMu adds the phrase: "Way more muscle."
Then there's the ad from NorthStar Bank, a small and recent startup bank in Tampa. Its message? "At a time of financial uncertainty, NorthStar Bank customers take comfort knowing the bank is solid and secure."
In a full page ad in the Tampa Bay dailies this weekend, SunTrust played off its name. "Trust is in our name. And we remain determined to live up to it." The Atlanta-based company, which has traded above $78 in the past year, had watched its stock drop under $26 earlier this summer. To their credit, shares now trade closer to $50 these days. Today, there's a report SunTrust has picked a new advertising agency -- Mullen -- one that the bank says knows how to communicate themes of stability.
Watch for a lot more words of assurance from the financial community in the coming weeks.
-- Robert Trigaux, Times Business Columnist