When I think of brands with a reputation for taking marketing risks, financial institutions are not at the top of my list. Most aren’t on the list at all.

That’s unfortunate because marketing risks, when executed well, can effectively differentiate your credit union or bank’s brand. Marketing risks take many forms, like using humor in a unique way, supporting a controversial cause or using sexual innuendo, among others.

A small jewelry store in Massachusetts made headlines recently for its spin on the “take a knee” controversy happening on football fields across the country. The jeweler’s billboard depicts a couple on a football field. The male is on one knee proposing to the female. The message reads, “If you’re going to take a knee this season, please have a ring in your hand!”

It’s a brilliant play on a popular topic.

Initial reaction to the billboard was favorable. Then one day a random consumer pulled off the road, took a picture of the billboard and posted it on social media, accusing the jeweler of racism. His ability, and yours, to mitigate a marketing risk depends on how you handle the attention.

Here are three things you must know before you take a marketing risk for your credit union or bank.

Some Consumers Won’t Like You

Part of the risk in any marketing campaign is the realization you may offend and even lose customers or members. The flip side is you may gain consumers who never even had your credit union or bank on their radar. You have to weigh the cost of taking that risk. Before you launch your campaign, meet with key decision makers. Explain the potential risks. Discuss the power of the added attention, be it positive or negative, and the impact it could have on your brand.

Your Campaign Could Go Viral

If it happened for a small jewelry store in Massachusetts, it can certainly happen to your financial institution. Prepare ahead of time for the best and worst case scenarios. Anticipate negative attention and craft responses which refute those claims and reflect your brand in a positive way. The jeweler did not anticipate that much attention but managed to give the perfect response in an article published by the Washington Post: “We want to sell engagement rings. We’re selling love, not hate. We were never wanting to be offensive. It was always meant to be satirical.”

Stay True to Your Intentions

The jeweler was accused of racism all over social media. His daughter, whose idea it was to do the billboard, received death threats. While they were not prepared for the overwhelming attention the billboard created, they did not cave to negative peer pressure because their intentions were always positive. They stood behind their intentions and communicated them whenever possible.

With great risk often comes great reward. Taking risks with your marketing could yield great results for your brand.


Garieri Jewelers’ billboard in Sturbridge, Mass. (Clear Channel/Scott Garieri)