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Tuesday, September 3, 1991 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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`Friend Of The Family' -- Washington Mutual New TV Ads Focus On `The Little Guy'

A couple of power-suited bankers gather around a palatial marble-slab table in what looks like the inner sanctum of the Federal Reserve. They're tense, testy. They grimace when they speak.

"We're talking a $10 million dollar account here," says one. "The numbers are soft, Ted," sneers the other.

Says an announcer: "Commercial banks do million-dollar deals with huge corporations, which can make your account seem kind of small."

One banker reminds the other of the consequences of the deal: "A half-million in fees."

At that moment, a Lilliputian-sized "customer" walks onto the table, stepping gamely over a pencil the size of a tree trunk and some giant thumb tacks. He waves and jumps up and down, trying to get the bankers' attention. He asks if they can help him with a certificate of deposit. They ignore him as they continue haggling over the terms of their big deal.

The announcer cuts in with the tag line: "At Washington Mutual, we don't do business with big business. Just people like you."

Prime-time watchers will likely see that commercial, or its similarly humorous companion spot, at least once tonight, as Washington Mutual Savings Bank rolls out one of its largest advertising campaigns ever, in an effort to update its 30-year marketing niche as a "friend of the family."

In what McCann Erickson, the creators of the campaign, call a "rolling roadblock," the spots will be shown three times tonight during simultaneous slots on all five of Seattle's local television stations. The idea, says the agency, is that, even if viewers change channels, they will see the commercial.

Hank Barber, McCann Erickson's general manager, says the new positioning of Washington Mutual, as a bank "that doesn't do business with big business," is a logical extension of the bank's traditional "friend of the family" theme.

"Washington Mutual has used `friend of the family' since 1961," said Barber. "It's got a lot of equity, and it still is recognized, and it still is consistent with the bank's corporate strategy."

Though the phrase will be used on some radio, print and point-of-sale advertising, he said, the silver-haired actor who for years played the trust-worthy, reassuring banker in Washington Mutual's commercials will no longer be used, Barber said.

Though Washington Mutual won't say exactly what the campaign will cost, Deanna Watson Oppenheimer, senior vice president of marketing, says it will be allotted a substantial portion of the bank's $3 million annual media-buying budget.

At a time when Seattle is still rocking from the news that the state's two largest commercial banks, Seafirst and Security Pacific, will merge because of the marriage of their California-based parent companies, Washington Mutual's campaign has the added edge of reminding consumers that it is still a Washington institution.

"The primary theme of the television campaign is to differentiate between a commercial bank and a consumer bank," said Kerry Killinger, Washington Mutual chairman.

"The supporting theme is that we are independent and locally managed, and that all your business is handled here, rather than going over a WATTS line somewhere down south," said Killinger.

The campaign is its first major positioning campaign that McCann has undertaken for Washington Mutual since the agency landed the account in April. Getting the bank's account followed an agency shuffle that started when Seafirst returned its business to Mike Mogelgaard - now co-chairman of Evans Kraft - after a brief stint with Cole & Weber. Evans Kraft ended its decades-long relationship with Washington Mutual in order to take on Seafirst.

The new campaign also gives McCann Erickson a chance to use some Hollywood special effects. The two television spots, both which feature tiny consumers trying to get the attention of giant bank tycoons, were shot at Boss Film in Los Angeles and directed by Roger Christian, who worked on such special-effects-filled movies as "Star Wars" and "Aliens."

The campaign, which also includes radio spots and print ads, is Jim Copacino's first work since leaving Livingston Co., this spring, and joining McCann Erickson as a senior vice president and writer. Copacino, who worked on many of the widely acclaimed Alaska Airlines spots while with Livingston, is known for his deft touch with humor.

"We're not going for the big belly laughs here," said Copacino. "But what we do have here is a shared sense of humanity that does ring true, and I think people respond to that. The little people are a pretty handy bit of visual shorthand, that we thought portrayed the real emotions of consumers who go into a bank. If a bank has Boeing and Weyerhaeuser as customers, and me, how does that make me feel?"

Copyright (c) 1991 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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