For the past few months, those of us who live in and around Ann Arbor have been subjected to a relentlessly pervasive advertising campaign featuring a balding, sunken-chested, Clearasil-colored cartoon banker with an often furrowed brow, and standard issue “nerd” glasses. He started showing up on billboards a little over a month ago. At first, it was just his giant face, on a field of bright green, looming over our thoroughfares… a harbinger of things to come. Then, over time, text started creeping in. Above his bald head, you’d see things like, “Non-local bankers think Mani Osteria plays for the Tigers”. (Mani Osteria is a restaurant in downtown Ann Arbor, not an outfielder for the Detroit Tigers.) And, with that, the pieces started falling into place. The man who had been staring down on us, it would seem, was a hopelessly uncool corporate banker who just didn’t have a clue when it came to appreciating the peculiar charm of the Ann Arbor region, which, as we all know, is truly unique and special.
The campaign, waged on behalf of the Bank of Ann Arbor by the folks at the local ad firm Perich and Partners, evolved from a social media experiment coordinated by Perich that got off the ground about a year ago. Word was put out though Facebook, and various other channels, that prizes were to be had for those who could come up with witty ways to complete the phrase, “Non-local banks think…” (The winner of the competition, by the way, was the Mani Osteria one, which I noted above.) The bank, it would seem, liked the response, and invested in the launch of a billboard campaign. (Earlier permutations, which I apparently didn’t take notice of, just included these phrases, sans giant head, on the same field of bright green.) And, at some point, it would seem, a decision was made to up the ante and incorporate a character to personify this pathetically out-of-touch pansy of a New York banker.
Here’s an example of the final product.
I’d been thinking about writing something about the campaign for a while, but I lacked a hook… until a few days ago, when local illustrator and marketeer Dustin Krcatovich began publicly jamming the campaign by way of Facebook.
Before we go any further, I’d like to say that I would much rather that you did business with Bank of Ann Arbor than with Chase or Bank of America. (Or, even better yet, you could move your money to a credit union.) This post isn’t intended, at least from my perspective, to be an attack on Bank of Ann Arbor, which I’m sure is a great company with a demonstrated interest in making our region successful. And, actually, to be honest, it’s not even really an negative critique of this campaign, which I recognize may very well have served its purpose, even if I find it a bit annoying for it’s saccharine, self-congratulaory tone. I just wanted to open a thread where people could discuss the campaign openly.
Now, with that said, here’s one of the images that Dustin produced. This one, I think it’s pretty clear, was created in reaction to the fact that the illustration in question was produced by a non-local firm. (Perich outsourced the work to New York firm J. J. Sedelmaier Productions, Inc.) The second, seen further down, I’m guessing, is in reference to that non-so-advertising-friendly chapter of Ann Arbor’s history which unfolded on the campus of U-M about 20 years ago, when GG Alin came to visit and fling his shit from the stage of the Half Ass.
Well, I caught up with Dustin last night, and asked him a few questions. Here’s our exchange.
MARK: Your primary issue with the ad, I take it, is that the illustration was created by a non-local company, which is odd at best, and hypocritical at worst, given that the whole subtext of the campaign is that one should do business locally. Is that right?
DUSTIN: To be fair, I didn’t know at first that Perich had created the initial campaign, but, yes, they hired J.J. Sedelmaier (of Saturday Night Live’s TV Funhouse and a bunch of other stuff like that) to design the character.
MARK:Before we go any further, what do you think of the campaign, putting aside the fact that the character was designed by a New York-based company?
DUSTIN: I think it’s utter pandering. It doesn’t reflect the greater Ann Arbor community’s interest, first of all, but it’s also just tacky and pointless.
MARK: Given that people… including you and me… are talking about the campaign, do you think the folks at Bank of Ann Arbor and Perich see it as a success?
DUSTIN: I think it’s a successful campaign in terms of drawing attention, but also in drawing ire, so I’m not sure how that helps them increase their market share.
MARK: Any chance you might go out and try to put up a billboard of your own, or alter one of theirs? Like the one with that you produced with the non-local banker eating human feces?
DUSTIN: I would love to, given the funding. I wouldn’t want to get into legal trouble in order to do it, though, so I probably wouldn’t go the Banksy route, but I’m all for beating the corporate drones at their own game, given the opportunity.
MARK: Is he consuming the poop in your image? He doesn’t look too happy about it. He looks kind of like he’s thinking, “Eating that poop could have been a mistake.”
DUSTIN: Well, that’s up for debate. I’ve been going back and forth on whether he was just performing exceptionally messy analingus, or actually consuming it.
MARK: Is your sense that it’s drawn ire in a broad sense, across a number of demographics? I wonder, in other words, if it’s just the hipster intelligensia that finds it offensive.
DUSTIN: To be fair, I’m insulated in a very particular milieu that includes a lot of disgruntled artists who could’ve whipped up something better in half an hour.
MARK: A better version of the character, or a better campaign?
DUSTIN: While I’m sure some of the target demographic of yuppie goons find the campaign charming, I do think most probably find it irritating and pandering. People trust bankers like they trust politicians, and with good cause. Even if they know who Mayer Hawthorne is (appropriately enough, an EX-Ann Arborite is namedropped to promote localism), where’s the one about Iggy Pop?
MARK: For those folks in the audience who aren’t aware, Dustin is referencing the BOAA billboard which says, “Non-local bankers think Mayer Hawthorne is running for re-election”… So, back to your work, do I sense a Kickstarter campaign in the future?
DUSTIN: Hmmmm… worth considering. I might want to get a posse together first.
MARK: Let’s brainstorm for a moment. What, in your mind, would have been a better direction for them to have taken? Remember, they’re trying to get through to the older business owners among us, and those of us with considerable financial holdings? Too edgy probably wouldn’t work. And something more safe… like a traditional campaign focusing on the happy faces of their clients… probably wouldn’t break through in the way that they were hoping. They were in kind of a tough spot, right?
DUSTIN: True story. I play a major role in the “social media” marketing for two local companies (Encore Records and Saagara, plus my own extracurricular work with FM DUST), so I do sympathize with that tightrope walk. My uncomfortable relationship with the capitalist system as such puts me in an awkward position to comment, and I can definitely see where BOAA and Perich were coming from in their campaign, but I retain that it has manifested itself as tacky and cloying, like a kid who’s trying to prove that he’s into cool stuff by gratuitously dropping band names into conversation.
MARK: Closing thoughts?
DUSTIN: On a certain level, it seems silly to pick on specific advertisers/advertising campaigns. Businesses pay advertising and marketing firms a lot of money to fuck with your head and lie to you. They hire psychologists to determine what color schemes are most likely to lull you into the sort of mood that might make people more sympathetic to your product. It’s a sick world, through and through. Why single anyone out?
Answer: because it’s fun, and it’s funny.
Thus, what will be a continuing string of pieces created by myself, designed to pick apart and undercut The Bank Of Ann Arbor’s grossly hypocritical, cloying, and just generally lame “non-local banker” (NLB) campaign. Sure, Nike’s more evil, Wal-Mart’s more insidious and creepy, Bongz And Thongz is more trashy, but none of these have more cluelessly tried to use viral marketing techniques and collegiate-friendly imagery (J.J. Sedelmaier was likely chosen to convey some of the perceived “hipness” that comes along with the Saturday Night Live connection) to forward their dubious agenda, all while exploiting the current trend of localism. It’s cheap, it’s tacky, and as I said earlier, it’s hypocritical.
Let’s go ahead and put aesthetic qualms aside a moment, and focus on the hypocrisy of the thing. Lip service to localism doesn’t do anyone any good without spending the money in the community to back up your firm’s claims. It makes Bank Of Ann Arbor (as well as Perich) look deceitful, bloated, and out of touch, no matter how many local names they drop. Why not hire a local artist like Jeremy Wheeler, Nate Higley, or the team at VGKids to design the non-local banker, and put your money in the same vicinity as their mouth? There are tons of local artists, animators, etc. who would be happy for the work, and it would actually give credence to BOOA’s claims of being region-centric.
Obviously, BOAA is a regional business, and it’s still probably better to put your money there than, say, Chase or Bank Of America. That said, their arrogance in exploiting the community’s interest in “keeping it local” while thinking that the community wouldn’t notice that the whole campaign is a bunch of (to take a bar from the Joe Biden songbook) “malarkey” is something that they deserve to be shamed for.
On a lighter note: the ad campaign is obnoxious, unfunny, and by now, stretched thinner than the new design for Minnie Mouse. I’d be lying if I said that any sociopolitical criticism is slightly undercut by my general impatience for how tired I am of their stupid joke.
In a closing note, I should say that Jeremy Wheeler inspired me to do these, as he’s been using the non-local banker in some recent fliers. He did it first. Or, at least, he did it before me. Credit where credit is due.
MARK: How about using the same image of the guy, only having a tag line saying, “This man will kill you in your sleep if you bank with Citibank?” Could you get behind something like that?
DUSTIN: Give me a half hour, and I’ll one-up that. That general idea, though, I could get behind.
For what it’s worth, Bank of Ann Arbor seems to be doing really well these days, as are local banks in general. The numbers I’m finding don’t quite jive, but they all seem to indicate incredible growth. According to an article published by Crain’s in May, the bank had “grown total assets to a record $792 million and grew net income in the quarter to nearly $2 million from $1.3 million in the same quarter last year.” The industry magazine American Banker, however, in an article about the non-local banker campaign, says the company has $1.4 billion in assets. Regardless of the number, the company is doing extremely well, and I think that speaks well for the future of our local business ecosystem… except, I guess, for illustrators.
UPDATE: This conversation took a very strange turn online, with Bank of Ann Arbor employee and local concert promoter Matthew Altruda exchanging increasingly pointed comments with WCBN volunteer Jason Voss over their competing visions of the local music scene. Much of the debate, which took place largely on Facebook, has since been removed, but some evidence of the exchange, including Altruda’s letter to WCBN management, asking for Voss’s immediate dismissal, can be found in the comments thread of this post.