3rd Fed Missing Mascot Odyssey Takes Deep Dive Into YouTube

3rd Federal Bank has lost its mascot. Back in May, the bank posted a YouTube video announcing that its Gumby-like green spokescharacter had gone missing. Fifteen weeks and 12 video episodes later, 3rd Fred (as he’s called) is still AWOL, and the bank is still pumping out more installments.

The audience is ostensibly asked to help the bank track down 3rd Fred as he hops from one exotic locale to the next from week to week.

3rd Federal is hoping to grow name awareness, while also shedding its stodgy bank-like image.

“I’d like us to be more than the stuffy, stodgy bank,” says Kent Lufkin, CEO of the $750 million bank. “But people expect banks to be professional, look professional, because they have their money. It’s a blend, and I think we do it.”

Key Question: Is the “Where’s Fred” campaign projecting the professional image 3rd Federal intends? Is the audience reacting to this elaborate hoax the way the bank hoped?

“Banks are trying to figure out how to crack the code (of social media),” said Dana Dobson, 3rd Federal’s VP of marketing. “How does a bank use it? We’ve been liking social media as a way to engage people.”

Dobson says the campaign is the bank’s early “toe dip” into social media on multiple platforms.

“Social media is all about engagement, not selling,” Dobson adds.

Week Title/Summary of Video Views Link to Video

Launch Video – A phony news broadcast is interrupted with this breaking item: 3rd Fed’s mascot is missing. The search begins.

2 The Search Continues – 3rd Fred launches a Twitter account. Details of the mascot’s disappearance revealed. 84
3 CEO Makes Plea –  The bank’s CEO begs for 3rd Fred’s return after the mascot was spotted hitchhiking to the airport. 136
4 British Columbia – 3rd Fred spotted by moose hunters in the  Canadian wilderness. 77
5 France – 3rd Fred travels to Paris and meets a mysterious woman. 94
6 China – Satellite photos confirm that 3rd Fred visits The Great Wall, where he was photographed by American archeologist. 70
7 Spain – The mascot travels to Pamplona, Spain to run with the bulls. 93
8 Africa – Fred is feared dead after being eaten by lions, but an eye-witness says the rumor isn’t true. 477
9 Hawaii – 3rd Fred hits the beaches and rides some waves in the Pacific Ocean. 272
10 Secret Service – Agent Howie Duitt is put in charge of Operation Green Marshmallow, a mission to locate and return 3rd Fred. 241
11 Independent Film – Fred heads to LA and makes his own overwrought art film… in French with subtitles. 195
12 Fred Found (Sort Of) – Fred molts and leaves behind his skin in the Sonoran Desert in Arizona. 126
13 Imposter – Another mascot comes to 3rd Fed’s headquarters. Is he a suspect? Agent Duitt gives him the third degree. 81

3rd Federal Assistant Marketing Manager Carolyn Maniscalco and coworker Andrew Ortwein produce the campaign’s videos internally, which are then uploaded to the bank’s YouTube channel at a pace of about one per week. Various members of the bank staff, including CEO Lufkin, make occasional guest appearances.

With a total of 13 videos posted so far — each averaging around two minutes — 3rd Federal has accrued a total of 2,183 views. That’s an average of 167 views per video.

The bank created a dedicated Twitter account for 3rd Fred, and is using its corporate Facebook page to spread the word. 3rd Fred’s Twitter account has 20 followers, sent 57 tweets and follows no one back. The bank’s Facebook page has 145 Likes. 3rd Federal seems to have abandoned its blog, which is not playing a role in the current missing mascot campaign.

3rd Fred debuted as the bank’s mascot in 2005, along with the new motto “Go Green” and a lime green color scheme. At that time, 3rd Federal also swapped “3rd” in lieu of the more formal “Third” in its name.

The bank plans on celebrating its 90th anniversary later in September, after Fred has been “found.” The anniversary campaign, dubbed “Real People, Real Stories,” will be 3rd Federal’s next social media initiative, with 90 separate videos of customers sharing their banking memories. The bank plans to air one story a day on its website for 90 days.

Analysis & Recommendations

This is a wonderfully lighthearted, well-intentioned and very creative effort. But the plot and purpose of the “Where’s Fred?” campaign are both a bit confusing. Was 3rd Fred abducted? If so, why would his kidnappers take him on a trip around the world? If not, then why is the mascot missing and — more importantly — what are people in the audience supposed to do? Why should people care? Why should they pay attention?

The audience can’t help find Fred because there aren’t really any clues offered that would help them solve the mystery, just weekly reports on where Fred’s been. There’s no contest, no sweepstakes, no giveaway, no entry form, no grand prize with a free trip to [wherever]. In fact it isn’t a game at all, just a multi-part series of soft-sell commercials.

And 13 weeks (with a couple still left to go) is a lonnnng time for this kind of promotion. It’s hard to hold people’s attention for a few seconds, much less three months.

While the campaign involves little financial risk (it doesn’t really cost anything), the “Where’s Fred” project has surely consumed a fair chunk of time internally. 3rd Federal’s three-person marketing team has had to conceptualize, write, shoot, edit, post and promote over a dozen videos. It could easily have taken 100-200 staff hours.

They would have been able to shave some time off the project if they had concentrated their efforts on a microsite instead of fracturing the campaign across multiple social media channels. The bank does have a “Where’s Fred” page on its main website, but there’s sparse content — just a couple of videos.

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