City for the people

Vancity boasts an impressive history of social-change firsts in the financial category, from the first in Canada to offer mortgages to women in 1960 to the first socially responsible mutual fund in 1986 and the first loan for the purchase of a low-CO2 emission vehicle in 2003. So it's hardly surprising that when the Vancouver-based credit union decided to overhaul its marketing last year, the end result included a few more firsts.

Vancity boasts an impressive history of social-change firsts in the financial category, from the first in Canada to offer mortgages to women in 1960 to the first socially responsible mutual fund in 1986 and the first loan for the purchase of a low-CO2 emission vehicle in 2003. So it’s hardly surprising that when the Vancouver-based credit union decided to overhaul its marketing last year, the end result included a few more firsts.

Inspiration

Its commitment to the community and standing as a financial institution place Vancity in a unique position to effect change, whether that be fighting climate change and poverty or growing the social economy. Vancity’s current strategy focuses on those three pillars as it connects with members, staff and community.

This strategy is illustrated best with products and services such as the Shared Success program, through which Vancity members and the community all get a share of the credit union’s profits, or the Bright Ideas home renovation loan, which funds renovations in accordance with a Natural Resources Canada EcoEnergy retrofit program.

The brand is built on this foundation of community leadership. Vancity conducts ongoing reputation monitoring which shows that consumers consistently rate it the most respected organization in Vancouver, the Lower Mainland and Victoria – and not just among financial institutions. And now the brand works to deliver advertising that is as effective and powerful as the ‘good things’ it does in the community.

Execution

Vancity began leveraging green and community aspects in its marketing in 2005, with agency TBWA Vancouver. Prior to that, its campaigns were largely ‘me too’ executions similar to most FIs. From 2005 to 2007, Vancity created several campaigns, but hadn’t yet truly brought its brand differentiator, ‘benefits to you and the community can come in the same package,’ to life.

Last year, Vancity stopped worrying about what to say, and instead focused on how to say it. It wanted advertising that took a ‘sum of parts’ approach to showcase the various elements of the brand offering, while at the same time showing how they all tie together to contribute to the larger brand identity and personality. This worked to make the individual offerings more relevant, and also provided a chance to experiment with different ways to engage the community.

All parts of the campaign were aligned with the tagline ‘We all profit,’ which clearly states Vancity’s point of difference as an FI that fundamentally believes that no one has to profit at the expense of others, the community or the environment.

Marketing Efforts

One of the ‘parts’ of Vancity’s ‘sum’ was a community experiment called the Vancity Bike Share program. The idea was born out of the need to reduce car usage, a major contributor to climate change. Because habits are hard to break, Vancity wanted to see what would happen if people got a little push and, in this case, some pedals.

Vancity partnered with Better Environmentally Sound Transportation (BEST), a local non-profit that offers innovative programs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and climate change and informs people about the environmental, health and community issues surrounding transportation.

At its annual pancake breakfast in June 2007, Vancity launched the program by giving 45 bikes to the community. Participants were asked to take a bike, ride it and pass it on. Vancity’s online social community, ChangeEverything.ca, was the project home base where cyclists could find program information, blog about their experiences, spread the word about cycling and find the next person to pass the bike on to.

The Bike Share program was particularly emblematic of what Vancity wanted to do: touch the community, inspire people to change their habits and help them reach out to others – and, in this case, get more exercise and commit to reducing their carbon footprint. At the end of the program, the bikes were donated to Pedal Energy Development Alternatives (PEDAL), a non-profit that provides low-cost transportation to low-income individuals. Several people even bought bikes of their own.

Other elements of Vancity’s overall branding campaign focused on specific brand attributes, using unusual means to communicate the brand’s philosophy. In an OOH execution, solar panels were placed on a billboard to light up a large LED Vancity logo and communicate Vancity’s commitment to acting on climate change. At street level, a transit shelter ad made out of clear plexiglass ran the headline ‘Transparent business practices’ to communicate the brand’s corporate accountability.

These unique executions were supported with a more traditional transit shelter campaign positioning Vancity as an alternative choice with headlines such as ‘For hardcore environmentalists who can’t stop buying shoes’ and ‘Gay friendly. Since before marketers realized you have large disposable incomes.’

Vancity carried this spirit of the unconventional into its TV advertising, which focused on two specific products from its portfolio. One commercial portrayed a couple overusing aerosol products, while talking about the Enviro Visa, from which a minimum of 5% of Vancity’s profits is donated to the EnviroFund (which funds projects based on the issues voted most important by cardholders). Another showed a couple in bed talking about the Mixer Mortgage, which allows a group to take a mortgage together, and then panned out to show two more people in the bed.

Weallprofit.vancity.com was then created to extend the offline conversation, and demonstrate how everyone ends up profiting from good ideas. The focus of the site was an ‘idea wall,’ a street-level photographic collage of a city wall in Vancouver where brilliant ideas of any kind could be posted. On the wall, Vancity posted some of its ideas – that is, its products and services, with links back to vancity.com – and invited visitors to submit ideas of their own.

Results

The 2007 campaign captured Vancity’s unique identity and personality, helping to differentiate the brand. Share-of-mind ad awareness for Vancity was 23% higher in Q4 2007, the highest ever. The likelihood to consider Vancity also hit record highs, increasing 8% over 2006. Brand personality attributes saw an increase of 3 to 5% each quarter in 2007 over that of the previous year.

The TV ads achieved peak levels of creative breakthrough for Vancity, reaching 59% recall, well above the FI category norm of 39%. And weallprofit.vancity.com was a sticky microsite with an average visit time of 2:45 minutes.

The Bike Share program generated a positive lift on Vancity’s ChangeEverything.ca site, with a 19% increase in registered users, a 26% increase in average daily visits and a 54% increase in average page views. The Bike Share program itself received over $173,000 in earned media – 50% more than any other program to date.

Judges’ quotes

‘This organization incorporates social responsibility into everything it does. The cause is brand-aligned, the execution is very well done and I love the creative. Living out here on the left coast, you really get a sense of how perfectly they understand their market and how it really works for them, but it’s authentic.’ – Mike Krafczyk, BC Hydro

‘I love the way they have created products that are innovative, imagination-provoking and utterly transparent in their dual aims (improve your life, improve the world).’ – Marc Stoiber, Change

‘It’s clear from this integrated branding that social commitments are its business.’ – Pamela Divinsky, Ethos JWT

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