On Sunday night, I found out why Trey Reeme has been very quiet on the credit union/social media scene since the beginning of the year. It’s because he’s been working to bring Tim McAlpine and Currency Marketing’s Young & Free Alberta campaign to Trey’s new credit union, TDECU (fka Texas Dow Employees’ CU). This news was twittered very quickly Sunday night, with Bryan Sims being the first outsider to discover it the night before the official launch.
This exciting news, the Young & Free campaign’s launch and license for the first time in the United States, was tempered with the news that another credit union in Texas has copied (emulated?) the Young & Free concept (reported by The Financial Brand), in most, if not all, details.
This brings up the issue of financial institution branding in the internet age.
In the old days, it was easy. There was no way someone in Alberta, Canada would ever encounter something from Houston, Texas. And only traveling professionals would have regular visits between Houston (HQ area of TDECU) and Dallas (HQ of Resource 1 CU). But the internet has changed all that. With three clicks of a mouse, someone can view Young & Free Alberta, Young & Free Texas, and Resource 1 CU’s MyLifeMyMoney . And in fact, googling “Young Free” today yields the Alberta campaign as the first two results, and William Azaroff’s blog post about the Texas launch near the bottom of the page.
MyLifeMyMoney could suffer the same fate as the stellar BBC sitcom “Coupling” when it was translated from British to American TV. Coupling has six main characters, three men and three women, and the series explores the humor of their personal lives, and male/female dating and stereotypes. The BBC original is delightful, unexpected, and original. When Friends ended its 11-year hit run, NBC needed something to replace it, and purchased an American version of Coupling. But rather than re-interpret the British version in an American style, it simply copied the BBC original, line for line. The only difference was the American actors, and a few changed words such as ‘lorry’ to ‘truck’. Whether or not you had seen the British original, the American version stunk. It was flat. It had no sparkle, no charm, no pizzazz, all the things which made the British version wonderful. Even though 99% of American audiences had no idea that it was a copy of a show across the pond, no one watched it, and it was promptly cancelled.
This is what Resource 1 CU’s MyLifeMyMoney is. Nearly identical in most regards (spokesperson contest, online voting, etc), just changing the words and switching the graphics. Copying the surface, without understanding the depth. The first difference I see in MyLifeMyMoney is the declaration that the campaign is aimed at 18-35 year olds. What an 18 year-old and a 35-year old have in common is that they eat and breathe. And not much else. (A smart credit union marketing professional recently updated her Facebook status saying 30 is too old to come up with effective marketing strategies for the 18 to 21 age group. When will financial institutions understand that a.) it’s not about age and b.) even if it is about age, you don’t need to say it in your ads — Hey you! If you are between the ages of 26 and 34, pay attention because this ad is aimed at your wallet! Otherwise, never mind and go away!) MyLifeMyMoney also uses generic, cheesy, typical stock photography showing happy white people who could be anywhere. There is nothing that says “Texas” or local about these generic images, which is in stark contrast to Young & Free. Another social media misstep is that blog posts on the site are unsigned. Nothing says “corporate” more than faceless blog postings.
The final area where MyLifeMyMoney seems to fall short is that the actual value that a young person gets is unclear. On the surface it seems like a bunch of fancy names for services the credit union offers anyway. Free online banking? Who doesn’t offer that? Free live call center? Free ATM deposits? Free drive thru? Free direct deposit? Does ANY FI charge for these things? Free 8 locations? What, if you are older, you are charged for walking into a branch? Thud.
Resource 1 CU appears to have copied the surface appearance of Young & Free, while making mistakes on critical social media aspects.
In contrast to the hit BBC show “Coupling”, the BBC hit sitcom “The Office” made the leap across the Atlantic very differently than Coupling’s straight-out copy. The Office retained the name and core concept in translation, but was completely re-interpreted in an American style. And the results have been a runaway success on both sides of the pond. This is my hope for Young & Free’s translation south of the 49th parallel.
However, even Young & Free Texas has the potential to be less successful than Young & Free Alberta. As I mentioned, googling Young Free results in the Young Free Alberta site showing for the first two results. How will this be resolved? What is the best that Young Free Texas can hope for? Five Alberta results and five Texas results? What kind of confusion is that going to create in young potential members? What are young people going to think when they see Alberta videos mixed in with Texas videos on YouTube? Never mind the potential confusion that will occur once other states join the fray. Are Texans going to take kindly to the fact that they are second-class citizens, copying the magic that is occurring in Alberta? Texans have built their brand on being the biggest and best. Texans don’t take kindly to being second-fiddle at ANYTHING. You can’t hide things on the internet. Texans WILL find Young Free Alberta. The questions are how much, how often, and will they care? Because I like both Tim and Trey so much, and I love the Young & Free campaign and everything Larissa has done as Spokester, I would like to see them and Young & Free be successful in Texas as well. I even thought about NOT writing about Resource 1′s version of Young and Free. But that would be not accomplish anything. It’s on teh INTER-NETS. It’s out there for EVERYONE to see. Everyone can see the strategy of Resource 1. It’s not like if I don’t write about it that it will go away. It’s already out there. (A video from Larissa/Young & Free Alberta shows up as the third ‘related video’ result on YouTube when viewing the MyLifeMyMoney spokester search explanation video.
Young & Free Alberta’s success is definitely not solely due to Larissa Walkiw’s talent and charm. Young & Free Alberta has three primary success factors going for it: 1.) It’s completely new and innovative; no financial institution has ever done anything like this. 2.) The CU has a unique product (free checking) which no other F.I. has in Alberta. 3.) The campaign gives young people a true voice, not only through spokesperson Larissa, but through the unique Albertan events that Larissa covers in person and shoots videos and blogs about.
Young and Free Texas will have number three on the above list, but will not have number one, and number two is questionable. I’m not sure how the Go2Account stacks up against not only what TDECU offers, but against other FIs in Texas. I’m not sure what Dual Checking and Savings accounts mean, but checking accounts are already free at TDECU.
Will Young & Free Texas equal the success of Young & Free Alberta without a clearly compelling and differentiating product? Will Resource 1 CU learn enough on the fly about social media to make MyLifeMyMoney successful and be able to overcome the lack of a differentiating product?
Update: Now that I have listened to Trey’s phone conversation with Mark McSpadden, I have learned that Trey acknowledges 1.) The hope that Young & Free Texans commune with Young & Free Albertans and any other future Young & Free’ers and 2.) that he and TDECU decided to proceed with launching Young & Free Texas despite not being able to launch the corresponding youth product in the way that they had wanted. However neither of these points is apparent (or matters) to outsiders or the target audience.