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Local Advertising Connects With Customers Using Inside Jokes

Consider 'out-of-home' ads to connect with locals.
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The Bank of Ann Arbor doesn't necessarily want you as a customer. It doesn't want patrons from random towns, in arbitrary states. Locally owned and operated, the Michigan-based bank, founded in 1995, has always had the goal of dominating in its own backyard. Over the last two years, through a series of billboards featuring inside jokes targeted at locals, it has begun to do just that.

Each billboard starts with the words "Non-local banks think" and ends with a wisecrack, such as "Mani Osteria plays for the Tigers" (it's actually a popular restaurant) or "the Jerk Pit is a singles bar" (it's a Jamaican food joint). Many punch lines were crowdsourced during a seven-week Facebook campaign that drew 700 submissions.

But as inspired as the social media tactic was in terms of driving engagement, the idea to display the results roadside is what really helped the bank lure new customers. "Entrepreneurs who take bold risks with their creative campaigns find that outdoor advertising is actually one of the best options to increase local brand awareness and competitive advantage," says Bank of Ann Arbor president and CEO Tim Marshall.

Billboards may seem like big-brand territory, but in truth national campaigns account for only 16 percent of billboard revenue, according to the Outdoor Advertising Association of America (OAAA). Ads by local companies--80 percent of which have fewer than 50 employees--generate 75 percent of billboard revenue in the U.S. (The remainder comes from public service announcements.)

"Out-of-home advertising is really a great equalizer," says OAAA chief marketing officer Stephen Freitas. "It allows a local advertiser to make their brand as prominent, bold and impactful as a national advertiser."

Roadside billboards account for 65 percent of total annual revenue for all out-of-home advertisements. Other outdoor ad spaces include street furniture, transit and place-based media (like health clubs and restaurants). Additionally, digital display ads offer flash and flexibility, with an array of options like multiple messages, shorter campaign runs and even dynamic Twitter-fed signage.

Columbus, Ohio-based Members First Credit Union lit up digital billboards as part of an effort to target new families and young professionals. The campaign, which began in May 2010, streamed the institution's Twitter feed, displaying everything from invitations to information on bank events to updates on loan rates. The digital integration paid off, helping the credit union experience its best-ever period of growth and lower its average member age from 57 to 45.5 years old.

Similarly, Bank of Ann Arbor saw big returns from its billboard campaign. In 2011, more customers signed on with the financial institution than ever before, adding $77 million in deposits, for a total of $686 million. As a result, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. ranked the company the fourth-largest bank in the area that year, up from seventh in 2010.

"We created an idea that was so simple that it could be crowdsourced and really effective," says Ernie Perich, president and creative director of Ann Arbor-based Perich Advertising + Design, which produced the Bank of Ann Arbor's campaign. "All people needed to do was know the local town and have some fun with it."

Regardless of a campaign's creative merits, out-of-home advertising is, fundamentally, a real-estate game. "When we looked at our budget, we had to create as efficient a delivery system as we could," Marshall says. (Bank of Ann Arbor declined to comment on the cost of the campaign.) To that end, the bank bought spots along busy highways, in addition to low-cost newspaper and radio ads. The goal was to reach potential customers where they are. For the Bank of Ann Arbor, that's right in their own backyard--and the spot in their hearts reserved for hometown pride.