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Is it FREE Checking or NOT?

Among the many things I find aggravating about bank and credit union advertising is inconsistency in the marketing message.

In the case of FREE Checking it’s either FREE or it’s not FREE and this message should be consistent across all marketing channels.

A classic example begins with the newspaper ad below.

Lincoln Journal Star March 25, 2012

Lincoln Journal Star March 25, 2012

Here the bank offers a checking account that pays interest and names it Smart Checking.  I immediately visited the bank’s website and on the Smart Checking landing page there was no reference to it being free checking.

I only know it is free because the bold ad headline includes the word “FREE” to describe the account.

What baffles me, and I’ve ranted about this in previous blogs, is why didn’t someone at this bank insist on the word “free” in the name of the account?  They should have named this account Smart FREE Checking.

So here’s the situation today.

Readers of the newspaper ad see that the bank is offering a free checking account.  Below the body copy there’s a link to a landing page on the bank’s website.  It’s not the basic Smart Checking landing page mentioned above but another landing page with additional information about the account.

Well, guess what?

I tried all day yesterday to access this landing page and got a “Page not found” message.  Maybe you’ll have better luck after reading this blog.

But, let’s revisit the basic Smart Checking landing page.

Nowhere on this landing page will a visitor learn that the account is a free checking account.  Carefully reading the copy I discover that while the account has no minimum balance requirement there is no mention of the presence or absence of a monthly service fee.

So, is it free or not?

As mentioned in the fourth paragraph above, this account pays interest – currently at the rate of 3.53% APY as long as certain conditions are met:

  • Must have at least 12 Visa Check Card purchases post and clear during the month.
  • Must access online banking.
  • Must agree to e-statements.
  • Must have a least one direct deposit, bill payment, or automatic debit post and clear during the month.

These requirements have no effect on whether or not the account is free.  They exist solely for the purpose of earning interest each month.  You might recognize this as what a number of participating banks and credit unions call “Rewards Checking.”

This account enhancement is ideal for differentiating a free checking account.  But for this to work, you must either include the word “free” in the account name or, at a minimum, always refer to the account as being free in every marketing channel and in every marketing communication.

The hidden message in this particular newspaper ad is two-fold:

First, our bank offers you free checking.

Second, our bank’s free checking account is better than our competitors’ free checking account.  It pays interest when you meet some very simple requirements.

I just don’t understand why so many bank marketers and senior management members find it so difficult to provide consumers with a simple, straightforward checking account offer.

They’re all guilty of marketing malpractice!

By the way, the ad shown above includes five lines of disclosure copy that were not picked up by my scanner.  There was no mention of it being a free checking account in the disclosure nor was there any mention of a monthly service charge.  Besides, I’m probably the only person who actually reads this mice type.

TagsAdvertisingautomatic debitbankbank's websitebill paymentblogcredit uniondifferentiating a free checking accountdirect depositdisclosure copyE-Statementsfree checkinghidden messagemarketing channelsmarketing malpracticemarketing messagenewspaper adonline bankingpage not foundrewards checkingsmart checkingVisa Check Card purchases

  Comments
  • David K.April 24, 2012

    The only problem with calling the product "Smart FREE Checking" is that some might think of it as "Smart-FREE Checking" (a.k.a., Dumb Checking). :)