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Gas for $1.99 Per Gallon, Courtesy of Digital FCU

This morning at 7:00, people in Worcester, Massachusetts, started lining up at a Gulf gas station to fill up for $1.99 per gallon, courtesy of Digital FCU.

The promotion is only running for 6 hours. It ends at 1:00.

DCU says they are running the promotion to help ease the pain at the pump for their community. (Yeah, that, and to reach out to hundred of potential new members.)

There will be a big, shiny halo around DCU for the next few days. Today they are local heroes. Tomorrow, they’ll be the talk of the town.

Brilliant. Simply brilliant.

Bottom Line: Assuming the gas station can serve around 150 people per hour with each person getting around 10 gallons, the credit union will only have to reimburse the gas station for around 9,000 gallons – around $20,000. And you have to wonder if the gas station isn’t chipping in a little for this tremendous opportunity.

It doesn’t cost a dime to market this, because $1.99 gas sells itself. The credit union will get thousands of dollars in PR coverage. They’ll probably make the news on all 3-4 local TV networks, plus a possible cover story in the local paper.

[UPDATE: The event got tons of media coverage.]

In the meantime, there’s going to be a few hundred hot new member leads. All the credit union needs to do is have a few staff stand around a gas station being nice and answering questions for a few hours. Easy.

The only odd thing is that there’s no mention of the promotion at the DCU website. Unfortunate, considering the spike in traffic they can expect.

Source: WWLP, via Randy Schultz at Weber Marketing Group

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Digital Banking Report | 2017 Marketing Trends


  1. Interesting perspective Ron. It seems to suggest that no incentives should ever be extended to potential new members.

    Marketing opportunities exist there on the ground, at the gas station. As mentioned in the article, it’s the credit union’s responsibility to exploit the opportunity. I’d expect they’d have at least 4-6 staff members there at the gas station. There was a long line of people waiting for gas.

    Also surprising to hear you poo-poo the power of WOM.

  2. This offer is open to both existing members and potential members, so there isn’t the retroactive conflict you’re concerned about.

    Second, “stunt” vs. “opportunity?” Semantics. It’s each person’s choice what label to put on this promotion, and that is based on their perspective.

    I can’t account for what the credit union did or didn’t do during the promotion. Did they have signage? Posters? People handing stuff out (schwag, brochures)? Nor can I say how they promoted this (or didn’t) to their existing members.

    If the DCU did nothing more than send a check down to the gas station and hoped they’d get press coverage and a few curious parties stopping by their website, then they missed the opportunity.

    How is this any different than a branch grand opening where non-members (as well as members) are invited to come have a hotdog, get a special CD rate and enter to win X?

  3. Brilliant, my foot.

    If I were a loyal member of DCU, and didn’t get advance notice of this promotion, I’d be pissed. Why offer the discount to a bunch of shmoes who may never join, instead of offering it to us loyal members? And how many of the people who actually get to take advantage of this discount will actually remember that DCU was the sponsor …. or what the initials DCU even means?

    A “few hundred leads”? How is that going to happen? The gas station is going to turn over the morning’s receipts to the CU? Doubt it.

    This is one of the short-sighted WOM buzz stunts that does nothing to build or extend the credit union’s brand. It says “we’re just another FI that resorts to short term tactics to get our name in front of you” Shame on you, Mr. branding expert, for not being the one to say that.

    About the smartest thing in this story is that the CU didn’t put on their web site.

  4. Let’s go back to the branch grand opening analogy.

    Two credit unions can have grand openings that look – on the surface – identical. You have a grand opening with the mayor, local chamber of commerce, prizes for the kids, and tea with cookies. Hundreds of people show up.

    CREDIT UNION #1 took advantage of the selling opportunities – before, during and after the promotion – and yielded a nice uptick in new members and new money. It looked like a one-day event, but really it involved marketing to both members and non-members over a multi-week period.

    CREDIT UNION #2 wakes up the next day, looks at the ribbon-cutting photo in the local paper with great pride, then realizes, “Gosh, I should have been selling products and getting all those people to open accounts.”

    I’m giving DCU credit here. If you’re smart enough to hatch this idea, you’re smart enough to maximize the opportunities.

    Re: DCU’s motivations. Marketers market for one reason: To get your money. It’s implicit, isn’t it? Even “Corporate Social Responsibility” programs are for this purpose.

    If every ad, press release, sponsorship and promotion had to reveal the *real* motivation behind them – “We want new accounts and more money!” – I don’t think anyone would be surprised.

  5. Jeffry Pilcher says:

    Morriss has just answered a lot of these questions (thanks Morriss!) His link back to the CU Times article where DCU did 99¢ gas back in 2006 says:

    1). The promotion is pointed specifically at members. They kept the promotion back in 2006 low-key by only e-mailing 2,000 of its members who lived within a two-mile radius of the gas station.

    2.) DCU had 10-12 staffers at the gas station. They even had off-duty, uniformed policemen directing traffic. To address the long line for gas, one of the cops yelled, “Free checking, no waiting.”

    3.) They had DCU signage at the gas station.

    4.) They were giving stuff away, like t-shirts, at the event.

    5.) Most poignant, it took DCU nearly two months to plan the promotion back in 2006. I’m guessing they learned some stuff.

    Worth noting: The article says, “It’s still too early to tell whether DCU signed up any new members as a result of the gas nearly free-for-all, but [DCU] said they will be monitoring the numbers over the next few weeks.”

    They got 875 people getting gas back in 2006. I was estimating 900 over the same six-hour period this year. That places the cost (as previously estimated) around $20,000. It would have been about half that in 2006.

    Also note: The motivation for the 2006 promo was different. “DCU wanted to thank the community for frequenting its two new area branches.” Although I think we all know what the *real* reason was.

  6. C’mon… how is a discount on a gas purchase an “incentive” to new members. In general, I would say that FIs do need to think a lot more carefully at what they offer new customers so as not to tick off existing ones (don’t you hate it when your cell phone carrier makes all these great offers when you’ve got 9 months still to go on your contract?)

    Second, please explain how you equate “WOM stunt” with “marketing opportunity”. Exactly what “opportunity” is the CU “exploiting” here?

    Here’s my bet: It was the CU’s employees that were first in line.

  7. @Ron It’s not often that I disagree with you, but in this case I think you’ve totally got it wrong. This seems like a totally legitimate publicity stunt. What do you want? A company/CU to offer new customer/member specials to existing customers/members? You’re off your rocker! Had the credit union taken that same $20K and spent it on their existing members (300,000), do you know what they would have delivered? Not a dime more than $.67/member. What would they have gotten out of that? A bunch of members saying “WTF? This is all I get for being a member? Sixty-seven freakin’ cents?!?” (that’s an actual quote).

    Instead, this credit union now has happy members (the ones who took part), a happy community, and thousands of dollars worth of positive press (presumably). Since we have very few details about the execution of this promotion, I think it’s odd that all of your assumptions were bred out of cynicism. Most credit union promotions that I’ve seen eliminate employees from prize eligibility. I’d bet DCU did the same. Existing members were likely told about this event (again, don’t know…but I would assume). To me, that means everyone had a fair chance.

    If I approached this post full of piss, vinegar, and cynicism, I may have had the same reaction as you. Instead, I viewed it as a smart PR move with a timely message and an excellent chance to improve the CU’s brand awareness.

    …but not putting it on their website?!?! Come on!

  8. There’s something about DCU’s stunt that doesn’t sit right with me, and I don’t think I’m articulating it well. But I’m not approaching it with cynicism.

    First off, it strikes me as not being 100% authentic. Even JP says “Yeah, that, and to reach out to hundred of potential new members” So is it REALLY to ease the pain? If so, why don’t give vouchers to the economically needy?

    Second, it hits me as “CUs playing by the big banks’ rules”. Matt, I fundamentally believe that CUs really need to redefine the game and redefine what it means to develop and cultivate member relationships and, with it, the marketing efforts that go along with that. So when I hear about something like this, it strikes me as not only tactical, but short sighted. What longer term effect does this move have in building DCU’s brand? Beyond the 24-hour bump in awareness, I think the answer is “little”.

    Does DCU have an awareness problem in Worcester? Sure, they’ll get on the news tonight. Big deal — it’s like the Citi sponsorship deal. The real question is how many people who hadn’t already heard of DCU will know of them tomorrow? Betcha $5 that not only will they not be able to answer that, but that they won’t even care — they’ll just be high fiving each other tomorrow morning for their efforts.

    Do you think that they’ve thought through WHO they’ll be reaching with this stunt? I betcha not.

    I could keep going. If I were DCU’s CEO, I’d call my mktg dept in and ask them how this fits in with the overall marketing strategy.

    p.s. To DCU: You may very well have thought all this thru — if so, sorry for the critique. What I was reacting to is JP’s consideration of this effort as “brilliant” without having any of the answers to the questions I raised.

  9. @Ron It’s hard to compare Citi’s multi-million dollar deal to this $20,000 stunt, but I’ll humor you. The major difference here is that everyone has already heard of Citi. People know that Citi offers credit cards and other financial services. I would imagine despite DCU’s large size (300,000 members), there are plenty of folks that not only haven’t heard of them but have no clue what a credit union is. If someone came in to get the discount gas and a credit union employee took that 3 minutes to communicate the credit union’s offerings, that person (opportunistic member or not) learned about a viable alternative to traditional banks. Citi doesn’t have to name stadiums (they already have ungodly name recognition by virtue of their sheer size and the billion direct mail pieces they send out). The credit union movement, however, has done a terrible job communicating a) We exist and b) We’re a great alternative to your bank.

    Maybe this publicity stunt helps with that? Maybe not. But it certainly wasn’t ill-advised (except, again, the whole website thing). I also don’t think it was the credit union manifesting status quo. I don’t know of any banks that are pumping gas for customers.

    One thing I’ll definitely agree with you on here, Ron, is the whole “easing the pain” statement. You’re exactly right – the credit union should be a little more transparent. “Look, we’re doing this so you can learn a little bit about DCU.” What are the chances that gets on the news, though? Not sure.

    We do need to redefine the marketing rules for credit unions. Too often, we try to try the same worn-out tools that have “bank” written all over them. Not sure if that’s what I’m seeing here, though.

    I still can’t get past the website thing…. 🙂

  10. This isn’t the first time DCU has done this. Here’s more info about that:

    As a side note, DCU bought the naming rights to the Worcester civic center. It was a 10 year contract that is costing DCU about $1 million per year.

    If you drive through Worcester, you will see signs for the DCU Center sprinkled throughout the city. Whether or not that makes people think “aha, I should move my accounts there” is open for debate.

  11. Were I to do the promo, I’d pre-announce it to members only like DCU. That’d get around the issue Ron brought up of “I would say that FIs do need to think a lot more carefully at what they offer new customers so as not to tick off existing ones (don’t you hate it when your cell phone carrier makes all these great offers when you’ve got 9 months still to go on your contract?)”

  12. Or how about only members get a notification/coupon of the event one week before it occurs, only in the lobby of the CU or from the web site. Everyone else has to pay full price. By making it members only AND notifying the membership before the event occurs, they’d accomplish two things: 1.) Word of mouth/buzz about the event would build up ahead of time. 2.) By making it so only members can get the gas discount coupon, they’d be reinforcing the credit union/membership difference in a meaningful way.

  13. From CUNA News Now:

    “From the credit union perspective, it’s the philosophy of us putting our members first,” [John LaHair, DCU public relations manager,] said. “When the opportunity presented itself, we realized we could have a one-on-one connection with members, non-members and potential members. It was a captive audience. When people wait one to two hours in line for gas, we can tell the DCU story and be able to show we understand what people are going through.

    “It’s an opportunity to educate once you get their attention. So we can talk about the products and services we offer and make a difference in people’s lives. We will look at similar strategies in other communities, because this time everything came together–the people, the media and the credit union industry,” LaHair added.

  14. A credit union in Montana duplicates the promo here.

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