How To Leverage A Celebrity Endorsement

Vantage West Credit Union shores up its premium checking accounts with a little help from a university head football coach.


Vantage West Credit Union scored a barrage of new premium checking accounts by staking its claim in the playing field. Through its “coin toss” promotion, which was backed by University of Arizona’s head football coach Mike Stoops, the credit union piggybacked off the popularity of the college sports scene.

With the coin toss, Vantage West ($1B, Tucson, AZ) pushed its name in front of a stadium full of University of Arizona football fans, including alumni with disposable income and students with the potential to be lifelong members. The campaign became more successful after Stoops signed on to a yearlong endorsement. The credit union even created its own sports paraphernalia – a commemorative coin – as the campaign evolved.

The Challenge

Vantage wanted to increase the number of members who used the credit union’s premium checking accounts, but it struggled to compete in a “very, very intense” financial services market, says Gary Bram, senior vice president of marketing for Vantage.

During the housing boom, Arizona developers were constructing new communities at a rapid pace. And those communities usually started with new banks. When the housing market collapsed and construction activity stagnated, a glut of banks without homes created the “very, very intense” market, Bram says. 

Vantage targeted college sports fans to increase its number of younger account holders and to attract the disposable income of college alumni.

“As a credit union that has limited funds, we were looking for a way to tie into the Arizona sports program,” Bram says.

The Strategy

Vantage worked with the University of Arizona’s marketing firm to craft a promotion in which Vantage produced the coin for the football games’ coin tosses. Vantage then enticed account holders to sign onto the premium accounts by offering replicas of the coin.

On one side of the coin: The University of Arizona wildcat mascot. On the other: the Vantage West logo. The coin toss promotion expanded in its second year to included coins for members who referred someone who opened a premium checking account. The campaign then expanded to include the endorsement of Stoops, who promoted Vantage in several branding spots.
“The value of the celebrity is that it gets the consumer’s attention so you can deliver the message,” Bram says. “There’re just a lot of things that are attractive about using a celebrity.”

The Launch

First, Stoops became a member of the credit union so he could draw on personal experience when speaking to others who were considering becoming members.

Stoops then agreed to allow Vantage to use his image for one year in off-season, generic branding in print, television, radio, and billboard. When Vantage shot the materials for the coin toss and checking account promotion, the credit union also photographed him for ads with general reason why someone should join.

“The idea here was that the public would begin to see him as a real member even after the season was over,” Bram says. “We wanted people to understand that he really has his business with us and that he’s really a member.”

Finally, Vantage stipulated that Stoops couldn’t do spots for any other financial institutions. 

The Results

For Vantage, the premium account is the cooperative’s core product and feeds to other accounts. In the first season of the coin toss, Vantage secured roughly 2,000 new premium checking accounts. In the next season, with Stoops backing the message, Vantage grew its accounts by 10%. And so far, the majority of new accounts the celebrity-endorsed campaign attracted are still active.

“If you don’t have a strong promotion to begin with, the celebrity probably isn’t going to turn it around for you,” Bram says. “But if you have a strong promotion and you can find an identifier that helps you push it a little bit further, then you can make it into a tradition.”

Now, Vantage West is trying to ensure that members continue to use their premium checking account by providing different types of incentives.

“Once we get someone into a transactional account,” Bram says, “we work very hard to keep them there.”