Union Bank Looks to Build Trust, and Retail Business

Regional player turns to Angelou, Olmos to voice first marketing campaign

Union Bank, a regional player with national ambitions, is partnering with famous humanitarians such as poet Maya Angelou to address consumers’ frustrations with large financial institutions.

The 150-year-old San Francisco-based bank, which never handled controversial subprime loans, launched its first-ever brand marketing campaign Jan. 28. Working with agency Eleven, it is tapping Angelou and Edward James Olmos, actor and Latino activist, to trumpet the bank’s new theme: “Doing right, it's just good business.”

While Union has been primarily a commercial bank, it sees the current consumer climate as an opportunity to grow its retail banking services. “Our research shows that big banks are vulnerable now,” said Art Smith, Union Bank CMO. “People are highly skeptical of the banking industry and are willing to move their money” if they recognize an alternative.

The 2011 Retail Banking Brand Vulnerability Study by management consulting firm cg42 concurs. About 70 percent of respondents in the study believed that large banks “claim they have my interests at heart but all they really care about are their own interests,” and 59 percent said they are “uncomfortable with how large some banks have become.”

In the new ad effort, Angelou and Olmos share personal reflections, and speak about the larger idea of doing right, not specifically about the bank brand.

“The idea is that wise people with interesting lives are speaking out about people doing right by each other, and that dialogue is brought to you by Union Bank,” said Mike McKay, chief creative officer at Eleven. The underlying message is that since Union did not get in trouble with subprime lending and the mortgage scandals, it is one of “the good guys,” McKay said.

Besides the commercial featuring Angelou, the campaign includes an anthem TV spot and a spot featuring Olmos that will debut in early spring. The TV runs on the West Coast and is backed with national and local print; radio; banner ads and a new website. On social media and in branded events, the bank will also ask the public what “doing right” means to them, said Smith.

Ann Green, senior partner at brand research firm Millward Brown, said the campaign is effective at selling trust, rather than a product or service, “Maya Angelou brings a kind of poetry to the campaign and with her prolific views on racism, identity and family, she can assuage people’s concerns about the financial crisis,” said Green. “While she doesn’t even mention the brand, Angelou implies that she trusts Union Bank.“

Owned by Mitsubishi Financial Group, Union Bank has retail branches in California and Washington, and is actively shopping for acquisitions, per industry insiders. Within five years, Union plans to be among the nation’s top 10 banks, noted Smith. 

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