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The “Losing” Proposition that became a Winner

ATLANTIC CENTRAL business magnate Jeff Bezos once said, “It’s not an experiment if you know it’s going to work.”

In the case of Atlantic Central’s 2018 marketing campaign Lost Wallets, the concept was, indeed, an experiment, with little idea of what might happen. But, like some experiments — such as Alexander Fleming’s accidental discovery of penicillin — the results ended up better than anticipated.

Atlantic Central’s Lost Wallets marketing initiative isn’t quite comparable with findings that changed the face of medicine but it did attract national and international attention with its bold test of human nature.

Along with an ad agency and a committee of credit union marketers, Atlantic Central came up with the idea to “lose” 12 wallets filled with $100 cash, a credit union debit card, receipts, various other cards and a contact number. Of the 12 strategically placed wallets, nine were turned in by good Samaritans. Given Atlantic Canadians’ innate sense of honesty and trust, this wasn’t too surprising, says Jennifer Murray, director, brand marketing for Atlantic Central, the trade association for 45 credit unions, which hold $10 billion-plus in assets and serve more than 300,000 members. These traits, by extension, are embodied by the region’s credit unions, with the tagline saying it all, “Refreshingly honest banking for a refreshingly honest people.”

Media loved the concept, with television, radio stations and newspapers across the country picking up the story. It also had digital pickup from such outlets as American Instagram influencer tanksgoodnews, with its 1.3 million followers. In total, the story of Lost Wallets reached 4.5 million Canadians through media coverage, Murray says. More importantly, the message resonated with Atlantic Canadians. “We have great people here with great values.”

The campaign clearly drew a line in the sand between credit unions and banks. “Research shows that consumers are skeptical, especially when it comes to dealing with financial institutions,” says Murray, pointing to the 2017 scandal when employees at the Big Five banks revealed how they were pressured to upsell, trick and even lie to customers to meet unrealistic sales targets. Atlantic Central and its credit unions made sure that they weren’t tarred with the same brush. The campaign, highlighted on Atlantic Canada’s website and disseminated on digital and social media, played up the differences between credit unions and banks. “It was less about selling the actual product than it was offering advice to help members solve a problem,” says Murray. “You need to earn the trust of the people. If you break that trust, it’s gone.”

Atlantic credit unions uphold a “member-first” approach, Murray says, taking into consideration the best interests of existing as well as potential members, offering sound financial advice at as well as in-branch. For example, an adviser might encourage a younger member to rent rather than buy, until he or she can afford a proper down payment. “We wouldn’t push a mortgage unless it was in a member’s best interest. We have a conversation about what’s right for you at this stage of your life,” Murray says.

Atlantic Central just partnered with Canadianity Content Studios to launch a new web series called Your Two Cents, featured on, offering sage advice specifically targeted at millennials and Generations Y and Z. Hosted by Canadian personality Jonathan Torrens, Your Two Cents’s videos springboard off questions and problems submitted by the public. Pop culture and parody delivers smart, insightful financial advice in an engaging manner. “Credit unions are super excited about this latest initiative,” says Murray, adding that, similar to Lost Wallets, media are paying attention. “Hopefully we’ll have great traction.” ◊

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