CU Water Cooler

#COOPTHINK The National Brand Unicorn

Tim McAlpineComment

I've seen it happen time and time again at conferences and online over the past decade. "Where's our Got Milk?" "Why don't we have a national campaign for credit unions?" "We need to explain what credit unions are in one easy-to-understand message!" "We need a unified brand" "Who's going to lead the charge?" Well, CO-OP THINK 14 has not been immune to this seemingly endless discussion. In fact, it has been the main theme being threaded together between the very inspiring and genuinely awesome talks.

I call this the national brand unicorn. Or rat hole. Or vortex. Get a bunch of credit union folks together and this conversation seems to be unavoidable.

Singer/songwriter and new CO-OP credit union spokesperson Daria Musk

Singer/songwriter and new CO-OP credit union spokesperson Daria Musk

The latest entrant setting itself up to tackle this seemingly impossible task is CO-OP Financial Services' new “Empowering People. Amplifying Dreams” campaign. It's a multi-faceted marketing program to promote credit unions to prospective members, targeting consumers born after 1980 and featuring singer/songwriter Daria Musk as a spokesperson. Here's the kick-off video.

The initiative has the potential of being a strong, impactful campaign. Especially since its backed by an organization with the reach and resources of CO-OP. The production value is high, the rags-to-riches-indie story is relevant and authentic. The music tie-in is well played and hiring a young spokesperson is now tried and true. Heck, we've done it successfully more than 30 times. Tapping into a musician with a huge social following is a really good new spin. Kudos to CO-OP for seeing the potential. Daria is talented, charismatic and enthusiastic.

Anything that attempts to attract new members to the credit union movement should be welcomed. In fact, the more the merrier. We've got CUNA's internal Unite for Good brand and its external A Smarter Choice and Don't Tax My Credit Union brands. PSCU introduced its national Make Your Money Matter initiative late last year not to mention countless state initiatives like this and this and this and dozens more. 

Rather than trying to position any of these initiatives as the de facto national brand campaign, let's celebrate them all.

The reason that the Got Milk? or Sunkist orange juice approach has worked, is that the individual producer brands have put their egos and public-facing brands aside and invested heavily (and I mean heavily) in marketing a unified brand. Orange juice, milk, cheese and other food products are absolute commodities. There are no perceptible differences.

Not so with credit unions. We've got big, small, local, regional, national, SEG, community and the list goes on. Credit unions are individual organizations that need to carve out their own niche with a unique and localized branding, marketing and operating strategy. Credit union boards, leadership and employees need to be focussed on their own credit union.

If leagues, CUSOs and national trade organizations want to take a crack at the bigger "what's a credit union and why does it matter" unicorn campaign, go for it. Let's celebrate our diversity rather than pretending it's as easy as mounting one mythical universal, one-size-fits-all campaign.


Tim McAlpine lives in Chilliwack, British Columbia, Canada. He is the President and Creative Director of Currency Marketing, an integrated marketing agency specializing in helping credit unions attract the next generation of members. Tim is best known as the creator of Young & Free and co-founder of the CU Water Cooler.