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Credit Union’s Use Of Cleavage Sparks Petition, Apology

Members of a DC credit union were surprised by a pop-up mailer inviting them to get a loan for a boob job. Some say the piece is trashy and sexist. Others think it may be juvenile, but isn’t a big deal. Either way, you have to wonder: What was the credit union thinking?

US Senate Federal Credit Union is taking fire for a risqué direct mail piece that invited members to take out loans for breast enlargement procedures. The exterior of the mailer simply asked, “Got Big Plans?” When opened, the folded pop-up shoves a pair of augmented breasts right in the recipient’s face.

Copy inside the mailer reads: “Preparing for life changes can be overwhelming… You have to live through it AND figure out how to afford it. That’s where we come in. The US Senate FCU is here to help. We can propose products and services to assist you with financing everything big and small.”

The mailer’s innuendoes are obvious and deliberate.

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When credit union member Amber Wobschall received the pop-up piece, she was not amused.

“I got home from a nice holiday weekend late last night and found this in the mail,” Wobschall told The Huffington Post. “I’ve really been a lifelong credit union member. I’m also a feminist. So I was very disappointed to find this in my mailbox.”

It made Wobschall angry enough to launch an online petition at Change.org.

“I’m asking the US Senate Federal Credit Union to acknowledge the inappropriateness of this mailing and make a public apology,” she explained. “Let’s help get this credit union back on track, serving the community in the respectable manner we deserve.”

The petition called for disciplinary action of the person(s) responsible for creation and approval of the mailing, a mailed apology to everyone who received the piece, and anti-sexism training for the credit union’s employees.

After the petition garnered some 435 signatures — along with a bevy of less-than-favorable media coverage — the credit union responded by publishing this apology on the homepage of its website:

“It has come to our attention that the imagery and message in a recent marketing direct mail campaign has offended some of our membership. It was not the intention of this marketing campaign to insult, demean or in any way offend anyone in our field of membership.

“The Board of Directors and Senior management personally apologize to the membership of the United States Senate Federal Credit Union for this action.

“The comments and opinions of our members recently received are very important to the Board. We will always value your opinion, membership, and support of the Senate Federal Credit Union.

“We will also work diligently and constantly to keep your confidence in our leadership.”

Recipients of the mailer who emailed their complaints received this reply from the credit union:

Thank you for your feedback regarding our recent mailings. We sincerely regret the message we conveyed did not meet with your approval. Our marketing efforts have evolved with the times as we seek to relate to various life events of our membership. These may include paying for such traditional things as for weddings, children’s braces, and purchasing autos but also more personal activities that many people seek nowadays. We recognize any of these may not directly relate to anyone’s personal situation, and we will make every attempt to exclude you from future mailings. We appreciate you letting know of your concern, and will keep your feedback in mind in the future.

Sincerely,

Sophia Fearwell
Sr. Member Services Officer

What’s particularly surprising about this situation is that the credit union’s CEO and VP of Marketing are both women. The $563 million credit union is small enough that one (or both) of the women would have seen and/or approved the piece before it went out.

One look at the website for the US Senate FCU and you can’t believe that such a serious-looking and seemingly conservative organization would produce a mailer as obnoxious as the one they sent.

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Public Reaction Varies

Among the dozens of media stories covering the issue, one at The Huffington Post drew over 170 comments. Some folks were outraged, saying heads should roll and members should close their accounts. Many felt the concept was immature and juvenile. Others felt all the hullabaloo was unwarranted, and expressed concern that the world has become too worried with political correctness.

Comments from those who didn’t like the mailer:

  • Offensive? Check. Not clever? Check. No brand reinforcement? Check. Not consistent with credit union philosophy? Check. The marketing team is packing up and heading off to an internship with GoDaddy.
  • This advertisement debases women, lowers the level of credibility of the credit union, and sends the message to borrowers that the organization and staff managing their money might not be smart enough to do so.
  • While the charge of sexism is certainly valid, my initial take was that a federal credit union, an institution that is supposed to be the counterweight to money-grubbing banks, was…money grubbing. They should be promoting saving and investing, not irresponsible borrowing at a time when many people are just trying to pay the bills.
  • At a time when a lot of people have switched to credit unions to get away from predatory banks run by those who have Las Vegas casino-patron-mentalities…..here’s comes ad with a “We think our customers borrow money to look like Las Vegas strippers” mentality. Not exactly a confidence builder. Just one question: Are there any adults left in this country? Anywhere?
  • From a marketing perspective, the ad is low-quality and puerile, aimed at a relatively narrow demographic — not the most effective way to spend advertising money.
  • The credit union should fire the people who came up with that ad and approved it. With such poor judgment and tasteless advertising, I’d consider closing my account if I had one there. It’s an insult to women and the credit union’s customers!
  • Whoever decided to send this out in the actual public mail is a real boob.

Comments from those who were indifferent about the mailer:

  • Oh, come on! Everybody’s acting like sensitive babies over this.
  • I consider myself a feminist, but the ad doesn’t seem like reason for mass firings.
  • Inappropriate? Maybe. In poor taste? Maybe. Deserving of uproar and sensationalism? Nope.
  • They do seem to be pushing the envelope a little, but if you compare this to Victoria’s Secret ads, this is pretty harmless. Just let it go.
  • I don’t see a problem with it. It’s an expensive, legal service.
  • Jesus, its an ad. Lighten up.
  • Forget all this politically correct junk. If you don’t like it…too bad.
  • Ugh…who cares?
  • Come on folks. Lighten up. It was a bad joke.
  • It’s junk mail. You put it in the garbage and forget about it.

Bottom Line: Everyone has heard the expression “sex sells.” While that may be true for consumer products, it doesn’t work in banking. The Financial Brand has never seen any bank or credit union ever successfully incorporate sexual overtones into their marketing. It always backfires.

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CUNA | Youth Week 2014

Comments

  1. Sarah Cooke, editor of the CU Times, has a terrific op-ed piece about this situation. Definitely worth a read.

  2. I love how the comments by people who didn’t like the mailer were longer, intelligent and well thought-out while the indifferent comments are just knee-jerk “anti-PC” one liners. “Not being PC isn’t sticking it to the Man, it’s sticking it to the people the Man usually sticks it to” comes to mind.

  3. Charlene says:

    Fabulous direct mail piece! Now follow it up with one for penile implants and you’ll get everyone in an uproar.

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