Credit Unions – What do we know about them?

March 11, 2013

by Layla Romero

Not much, it turns out, particularly if you fall into the age category of the millennials. Although the term “credit union” may have historically provoked a certain indifference, or even incompatibility, the strategists at Central 1 Credit Union have nailed an ingenious series of campaigns that aim to tackle this knowledge gap in young British Columbians.

Attendees at the February 27th event
Attendees at the February 27th event

On Wednesday, February 27th, the BCAMA gathered for another session of its Evening Speaker Series. In an intimate ballroom at The Fairmont Hotel Vancouver, attendees joined Central 1 Credit Union’s Martin Reed (AVP of Marketing and Research) and Alanna Dyani (Manager, Marketing) for an overview of the insights and strategies that allowed them to connect so effectively with the often-elusive millennial audience. “Millennial” refers to the cohort that follows Generation X and came of age during the 2000s; they form a group that is often praised for their progressive nature in the workplace and regarding social issues.

Martin Reed, Amanda Lee Smith (Director of the BCAMA Evening Speaker Series) and Alanna Dyani
Martin Reed, Amanda Lee Smith (Director of the BCAMA Evening Speaker Series) and Alanna Dyani

From the get-go, Martin and Alanna captivated us with the dynamic structure of their partnership. Watching them flit between breezy humour and no-nonsense insights quickly highlighted the successful characteristics of Central 1’s work: a laser-focused strategy delivered in a light-hearted yet highly engaging manner.

Now, what spurred the creation of their youth-focused campaigns?

Central 1 Credit Union is the trade association for the 45 credit unions located across BC. For 19 years, Central 1’s advertising strategies consisted of running a standard set of print and television ads – until 2009, when they decided to breathe new life into promoting BC’s credit unions. Drawing parallels with Oldsmobile’s fatal branding strategy, Martin and Alanna spoke of how credit unions were at risk of losing an almost unimaginable percentage of their memberships as users aged and their services lost relevancy. What began as a process of necessary rebranding resulted in a focal shift that saw young adults as a primary target for credit union enrolment. Their extensive research uncovered the fact that this audience was a blank slate – with this audience’s limited understanding of credit unions, there were no negative perceptions to overcome.

So what did Central 1 do?


After recognizing that they shared core beliefs such as honesty, community and trust with the proposed audience, Central 1 created a series of videos that introduced their mission to this demographic. In the case of the Be Remarkable campaign, a wickedly clever stop-motion video series outlined the characteristics and benefits of memberships in credit unions. By emotionally connecting with their audience (with what Martin called their “heart message”), these young adults could be encouraged to step away from their “default” bank, to which they were usually introduced by their parents. In stressing the benefits – that a credit union served the same function as a bank, that it supports community-building initiatives and that it often sees a whopping 80% of its staff volunteering – Central 1 aimed to make a place for credit unions on young adults’ shopping list of essential services.

It should be noted that throughout the process, with the exception of its micro-loans, Central 1 never directly advertised their products and services; instead, they focused on education and self-introduction. By skillfully leveraging emerging social media “spaces” and demystifying their prospective young clients’ day-to-day money concerns through initiatives such as Pocketbook Rehab and Sambla with the creation of the often-hilarious The Money Wizard, Central 1 demonstrated that credit unions were approachable, effective and in tune with youths’ needs. As a result, Central 1 saw – and continue to see today – a widespread increase in positive public perception. Credit unions are now seen by the prospective youth audience as a welcome source of much-needed information for both short- and long-term money management.

We look forward to seeing what the creative team at Central 1 will come up with next. Thank you to the speakers, attendees and volunteers who participated in this Evening Speaker Series event, and we look forward to seeing you at upcoming events, including the 2013 BCAMA VISION Conference on May 22.

Layla Romero (@laylayuki), is a member of the BCAMA Marketline Committee. Aside from a variety of marketing gigs, her principal job has only been revealed to a few and is yet to be discovered by the general public. (Editor’s Note: Really – you’ll never guess!)