Dozens of banks battle for market share in the Atlanta metro area, from huge outsiders like the aggressively branching JPMorgan Chase to community banks based in the city. But a reinvented Georgia Banking Co. brought something to the market that it hadn’t seen in a while.
It became a more business-focused institution, with enough heft to offer technology on par with big competitors, but with the easily accessible executives and at-your-service vibe of smaller banks.
“Ten years ago there would have been about five banks in between $2 billion and $10 billion in assets here,” says Bartow Morgan, its chief executive and a fifth-generation community banker.
Morgan and his backers, including private equity partners, bought Georgia Banking Co., in 2021. As he tells it, they took a very narrowly focused institution — the bank, founded in 2001, specialized in mortgage warehouse lending, an operation it retained — and widened its customer base to include local businesses. The bank had $600 million in assets when purchased, and Morgan says it is now just under $2 billion.
“We’re running for a space where there isn’t a whole lot of competition,” a middle ground between big banks and small ones, he says. “I thought that there lay the opportunity.”
Now the bank needs to get the word out in a market that is nonetheless crowded. So its new advertising campaign uses some distinctive humor to grab attention.
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Creating a Bank with Tech Excellence and a Human Side
The strategy entailed raising sufficient funding to buy the technology that many consumers see as essential to a banking relationship today, while maintaining the accessibility and familiarity of classic community banking, according to Morgan.
“Many of the community banks here don’t have the growth trajectory that we’ve got, nor the capital and ability to grow,” he says. “But at the same time that we’re able to purchase the more expensive software that the bigger guys are driving their banks with, the big guys can’t produce the high touch that community banks can. So we can bridge the distance between the two.”
But, when you are up against so many other financial institutions, some of which may spend more in a year promoting a single product than your annual budget for everything, how do you stand out?
Georgia Banking Co., working with its agency of record, Marbury Creative Group, decided it was time for a fresh look for its marketing and opted to use humor. And that ushered in “Joyce,” a fictional customer with a decidedly personal take on the bank’s slogan.
The award-winning advertising campaign, which also features Morgan, debuted in January 2023.
‘Bank of Choice’ Becomes ‘Bank of Joyce’
In the first of the six television spots to run so far, Morgan is standing in a branch talking to the viewer about how Georgia Banking Co. takes service to a whole new level. A woman carrying a coffee flask walks by, apparently just a customer in the background.
But after Morgan uses the bank’s motto, “Our vision is to be the ‘Bank of Choice,'” the woman snaps back into the scene like a ball on a rubber band.
“The Bank of Joyce?” says the customer, whose flask can be seen more clearly now. It has her name, “Joyce,” emblazoned on it.
Joyce is very impressed that they are so anxious to serve her. While singing the bank’s praises, she also scarfs up a big handful of lollipops from a nearby bowl. “I’m loving those CD rates!” she says, and Morgan guides her to an office to tell her more (and conserve the supply of sweets).
Most of the ads feature both Morgan and “Joyce,” who continues to think that the bank is named for her, no matter how often Morgan tries to correct her.
In two of them, she runs into Morgan having lunch — at recognizable eateries in the bank’s market. Once she remarks on his beverage. “Nice choice of IPA [India pale ale] there,” says Joyce, who never misses a thing, except for the name of the bank. “And here I thought you were an IRA man.” Morgan explains that the bank does have IRAs — individual retirement accounts — because it has the same kinds of products that big banks do.
One of the ads in the series has Joyce bringing the branch staff fresh-baked muffins and learning a little about small business loans.
In another, she talks to a budding author who wonders what to do with all the money she’ll earn from the book. Joyce holds up a book she wrote, “Making ¢ents with the Bank of Joyce: How to Get a Bank Named After You,” and suggests the author read her book for advice. At the end, a passerby asks that Joyce autograph his copy. She whips out a pen, attached to a cable. (After all, it’s a bank pen.)
“Atlanta is a very expensive place to do a large marketing campaign,” says Morgan, so it was important to create something that would stand out.
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Why Morgan? He’s a Well-Known Atlanta Banker
Though several humorous concepts were considered, Shelly Hoffman, an executive vice president at Marbury Creative Group, says something involving Morgan became the goal early on.
She says Morgan was so critical because of the recognition value he has in the Atlanta market. He was head of the city’s Brand Bank before its acquisition by Renasant Bank in 2018. (Brand Bank had been founded by Morgan’s great, great grandfather — E.M. Brand.)
After explaining the thrust of the campaign at a board meeting, the agency won approval. Later, as the plan developed, six spots were proposed. The intention was for the bank executives to pick and choose.
“But they liked them all, so we executed them all,” says Hoffman, who was pleased that viewers caught on to the idea that there was a progression, a story, to the spots.
Morgan says that he didn’t have to be cajoled into playing a role in the commercials, though the use of humor was something that he had to think through before he could give it the green light.
Georgia Banking Co. is willing to do something differently if it seems to be the right play — and “quirky” seemed an effective way for the campaign to make an impression, he says. The hurdle in his mind was making sure the bank came across as serious enough that people would want to trust it with their money.
“In the ads, you’ll notice, I’m the serious person and ‘Joyce’ is the quirky person,” Morgan explains. “So it’s almost poking fun at me.” He serves as the straight man of the pair, making the business point, while a bubbly Joyce entertains.
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When a Banker Becomes an Actor (Temporarily)
Marbury Creative Group found its Joyce in a local improvisational theater group.
The agency has worked with improv actors before. “They’re good on the fly,” even when there’s a script, says Hoffman, who does some improv herself, though not with the same organization as the actress playing Joyce.
Having Morgan’s foil be a woman seemed a natural, as it would add another contrast besides the humor, she says. It just seemed to fit better, so there was no attempt to try a male character with a rhyming name, such as “Royce.”
Morgan says that he’s never done anything quite like this before, and that it was his first time in front of a camera. “I have no aspirations to be an actor,” he says, crediting the film crew with making him look good. “We spent two full days at it, with a lot of takes. I found it’s hard work.”
Morgan had to be ready for nearly anything once he got into these ads. In one case, he is interrupted at a lunch that includes a huge soft pretzel on a plate.
Joyce: “My, that’s a big pretzel!”
Morgan: “It’s sooo good. You know, it’s all about the dough.”
Joyce: “Oh sure, like the dough I can access anytime I want, from the Bank of Joyce.” (She holds up her smartphone.)
The spot finishes with Joyce grabbing a hunk of Morgan’s big pretzel off his plate with a “Thanks for sharing the dough!”‘
In a spot outside a grocery store, Joyce notices Morgan has just bought vinegar and fresh vegetables. She smacks his arm: “You’re a banker and a pickler!” Their conversation works in a comparison with having money on deposit — the longer it “pickles,” the better it gets.
The six spots were intended to roll out from January to June to start building the story of Joyce. One place they will continue to run for some time is in programmatic placements on YouTube. Among the criteria for targeting YouTube users are geographic and income details, framed around Georgia Banking Co.’s ideal customer base.
The campaign won a silver award in the 2023 Telly Awards in the “Online Commercials: Business-to-Consumer” category.
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