Building compelling, engaging brands, in previously boring markets

I’ve been thinking a bit about brands recently. The Mozilla brand, the Thunderbird brand (and what it should evolve to be). One of the brands that I keep being impressed by is VanCity. For those not around here, VanCity is Canada’s largest credit union, with about 400,000 members and $14 billion in assets. They’re local to the greater Vancouver area, but they far from provincial in their thinking.

They’re unlike any other bank I’ve seen in that they take corporate social responsibility quite seriously (or at the very least they have me believing it!), and shout about it. In addition to having values which work for me, their overall brand works for me. From the typography to the design of their collateral to their branch “feel”, to their advertising campaigns, I keep responding positively to them.

Their street ads are particularly good (I can’t find pictures of them on the web apart from these), but it’s more than just a good ad agency at work. In particular, how many banks have gotten me to download their governance rules?

In contrast, I was walking to my (non-VanCity) bank today and saw an ad on the way in that said roughly “watch your savings grow every time you spend”, advertising some sort of debit card. That language got me thinking of Orwell’s 1984, and of the license that we grant advertisers when it comes to accuracy. As I walked in I was trying to figure out how I could move my mortgage out of this bank sooner than I planned. I felt almost guilty that my mortgage wasn’t with VanCity. When I moved my RRSP (like a 401k) to VanCity, I felt good. Impressive!

I need to find out more about how they do that.


  1. My quick gut says that ‘being an alternative to the big boys’ is the starting point for what makes the VanCity brand work. And, of course, this also works for Mozilla. And then there is good marketing agency work on top of this. There is lots of ‘alternative brands’ that have sloppy sites etc. … which quickly undermines. But you’re right that there is something more: the genuine promise that VanCity belongs to everyone who uses it. The tagline “we all profit from good ideas speaks to this … as does the governance model you downloaded. The ‘alternative’ and the good ad agency work on this promise, really setting VanCity apart. As you suggest, it would be interesting to learn from whoever’s behind this. Maybe invite a VanCity Marketing VP to guest talk at Mozilla Summit?


  2. David & Mark, thank you very much for your comments on how we’re bringing the Vancity brand to life. I am the Director of Brand & Marketing Communications here so it’s music to my ears!

    We are lucky that Corporate social responsibility is absolutely baked into the DNA here which makes my job a whole lot more interesting and, frankly, at time easier since it’s not just the Marketing department making stuff up. That said, we are in the banking industry so are constantly trying to find the right balance between success for the individual and success for the broader community.

    I’d be happy to share our experience at a Mozilla Summit and I’m sure we’d learn as much from you as well. Just let me know.


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