When Bank of the Wichitas named its online unit Redneck Bank -- "Where bankin's funner!" -- it was looking to garner some free publicity for its Internet bank. Well, mission accomplished. The folksy name has been covered by a slew of news outlets, including, most recently, The New York Times, which featured Redneck in a page-one, business section story Tuesday on troubled financial institutions looking to reinvent their images by tweaking their names and taglines.
Sharing the lead with Redneck was Ally Bank, formerly known as GMAC LLC and once part of the now-bankrupt General Motors Corp., and AIU --- "A unique franchise" -- and a unit of the notorious American International Group Inc. (NYSE:AIG). Intoned the Times of its threesome: "All are new names and new slogans for old companies with big worries and, in some cases, even bigger image problems."
Really? Redneck has big worries? And even bigger image problems? What are those, pray tell? The Times never does. Indeed, the story never returns to Redneck (though it does include a large photo of its down-home homepage) engaging instead in lots of highfalutin' talk about the marketing challenges faced by giant banks, including Bank of America Corp. (NYSE:BAC), PNC Financial Services (NYSE:PNC) and Citigroup Inc. (NYSE:C), and rolling out lots of recycled quotes from bigwigs ranging from Lawrence Summers to Lloyd Blankfein to Jamie Dimon.
Bank of the Wichitas, by contrast, is family-owned, has four branches in Oklahoma and about $115 million in assets. "Our target market is people with a sense of humor," director Wade Huckabay told The Daily Oklahoman back in March, explaining that he simply wanted to differentiate the bank's Web site from the thousands of others that are out there.
Meanwhile, the press keeps rolling in. Advertising Age wrote about Redneck on May 25 in a piece that, like the Times', also discussed Ally Bank and Bank of America. Co-inky-dink? Perhaps. But at least Ad Age knows the difference between Redneck's headline-generating "marketing schtick" and the big banks "re-branding and re-trenching in a serious bid to win back consumers' trust." That distinction was lost on the Times, which made its reportin' less smarter. - Yvette Kantrow
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