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Bank of Ann Arbor billboard

Better Billboards

"You'll get 18,000 emails today but only drive by so many billboards," says Ernie Perich

by Jeff Mortimer

From the July, 2019 issue

Perich is the founder of Perich Advertising + Design, an Ann Arbor agency that has for more than a decade produced quirky, unconventional billboards--and radio spots and other marketing tools--for the Bank of Ann Arbor. Remember "Non-local banks think Bo and Woody were in Toy Story"? Or "the Big Ten has ten teams"? Or, more recently, "Like Sonic Lunch loves blue skies, we love to help"?

The point, of course, is that BOAA is an indigenous institution that knows the community better, and is more invested in it, than the branch offices of out-of-state banks. That message has been delivered through four previous iterations of ad campaigns; the fifth launched in mid-June and producing it was a little trickier, because BOAA now has branches in Plymouth, Saline, Ypsilanti and Birmingham, in addition to its four Ann Arbor locations.

One of the solutions was a series of seven billboards, each featuring the bank's name printed vertically on the left edge and the word "helps" writ large, in a variety of typefaces, colors and patterns, comprising the rest. TV and radio spots and digital ads will include slogans like "Bank of Ann Arbor helps startups start up" and "Bank of Ann Arbor helps make 'home sweet home' yours all yours."

"This is a bit of a departure," says Perich. "For years, our advertising for the bank has been consistently green and consistently simple. This is a decidedly different approach: different every time, colorful but not necessarily green, but definitely bold."

"Because our campaigns have been so well received, we've got to be able to come up with a campaign as good as or better than the prior one," says Tim Marshall, BOAA's president and CEO. He likened it to sports, where the repeat and "threepeat" are always more challenging than the first title.

And "we always want to keep it local," Perich says, "and always want to get to a point where we can do a lot of them. Typically, banks

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run three or four ads a year; we run 300." The ads have been the subject of articles in banking and marketing publications and won several national awards before Perich decided not to enter any more competitions.

Perich was already a member of the bank's board of directors when Marshall was hired in 2005. "When Tim came along, we hit it off and saw there was an opportunity to take the bank's marketing to a whole other level," Perich says. "It really comes down to Tim and I were so eye-to-eye on where the bank could go."

"We try to stay out of the cesspool of mediocrity," Marshall says. "We're not trying to sell yields or rates or pictures. We're just trying to develop a brand that's local, that feels good, that people can connect with."

Both men cite the "non-local banks think" version, which ran from 2010 to 2014, as their favorite. That included the "Build-a-Billboard" promotion, which yoked the old, time-honored billboard with the nascent power of social media. Entrants could write their own headlines on virtual billboards on the bank's Facebook page and then post them to its wall. More than 700 entries were submitted, and the best were used on actual billboards and in radio spots.

"That was a great campaign, highly recognizable, people enjoyed it, but every campaign runs its course," says Marshall.

Coming up with a comparably compelling campaign was a lengthy process. "We start with an absolutely blank sheet of paper," says Perich, "no rules, nothing, and this process will take us four or five months to go from an empty sheet of paper to the final product."

Sometimes, says Marshall, the "war room" at Perich can get crowded. "I've always felt it's important to include a number of people who might bring a different insight to the process," he says. "It's not just one or two people from Perich or from the bank. We'll have up to seven or eight people in the room, all offering input and likes and dislikes, and that's how we get to the point that we get to."

Which, ideally, will be perceived as fresh, surprising, and yet familiar. "Let's face it," says Perich, "nobody gets up in the morning and says, 'I can't wait to read some billboards today.'"     (end of article)

[Originally published in July, 2019.]


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