By Kate Young
A fly scampers across the screen, buzzing softly. Not far away, a horse whinnies, showing his yellow teeth. Occasionally, an inquisitive pig shows his face, just long enough to make eye contact.
Then, things get weird.
There’s a goat wearing a trucker’s hat. A squirrel slides into view, gripping a fishing pole. Apparently he’s hooked a $100 bill. That’s when you notice the outhouse—the sign on the door says, “Log in.”
Welcome to Redneck Bank. It may take you a moment to convince yourself that this is not a prank. You’re on the bona fide homepage of the internet-only branch of All America Bank, a $400 million community bank based in Oklahoma City.
Having been in operation since 2008, Redneck Bank is not what you’d call a flash-in-the-pan, capitalizing on a moment in pop culture. It was actually the most successful element of a carefully planned digital strategy. And it has everyone laughing…all the way to the bank.
Surviving during times of change.
I called All America Bank to ask what this phenomenon might mean for today’s bank marketers—and soon found myself talking to the bank’s president, Wade Huckabay.
The Huckabays have been Oklahoma bankers since 1927, long enough to see a lot of ups and downs in the industry. So when they noticed that deposits were shrinking in the mid-2000s, they knew they had to do something.
At the time, it was mostly the larger banks that could offer online account opening—and did not require their customers to visit a brick-and-mortar location, Huckabay said. “We surmised that the reason for deposit decay was that the online big banks were silently taking our deposits right from under our noses.”
It was clear the bank needed to become more internet capable.
But how could they create an online presence with national appeal, while continuing to maintain their local community identity—both in their physical branches and on their existing bank website?
A consultant, Robert Mendez with BankOnIT of Oklahoma City, pointed out that they could open an internet division with a name that was entirely distinct from the brick-and-mortar bank. “Through this type of marketing,” Huckabay explained, “we could become an institution much different than our current image.”
Dancing with DBAs.
The stakes were high. “It seemed that it could cost millions of dollars to promote new brands on the internet from scratch,” Huckabay said.
So coming up with an unforgettable internet bank name became an obsession for Huckabay. In mid-2007, he spent 14 hours straight with a dictionary and a thesaurus in his lap while plugging possible bank names into computer. “It seemed that all of the good names were taken,” he said.
By midnight, he had built a list of about 130 bank names. “Redneck Bank” was buried in the middle of it.
At the officers’ meeting the next morning, most of the room dismissed the name as funny but unusable. Even Huckabay’s siblings had mixed reactions.
Huckabay’s argument? “It might not work. And if it doesn’t, we can change the website to something different and no one will ever know that we failed.”
In the end they agreed that the name, Redneck Bank, wasn’t for everybody, but that was okay. They would be trying out two other internet bank names as well.
The harder piece was coming up with a workable theme for the Redneck website. “Humor seems obvious now,” Huckabay said. “But at the time it was not obvious to us at all. We were stuck for the next three months.”
Then one snowy day in late 2007, a Tulsa-based marketer named Cindy Ford pitched some designs. “We started pressing Cindy to produce a website that was shocking, against the grain of traditional banks, and at the same time, not offensive,” Huckabay recalled. “Within a few minutes Cindy said, ‘Are you ready? Are you sure? I can’t believe I’m about to show you this, you will think I’m crazy.’ Then, she flashed up a webpage with the same horse and font we use today, with the words Redneck Bank on our screen. Everyone laughed hysterically. The rest is history.”
Two billboards in Lawton, Oklahoma…
At the time Redneck Bank launched, All America Bank was three separate community banks with a common ownership. And each of these banks launched its own internet branch with a different name and theme.
- AmericaNet Bank had a patriotic theme and targeted consumers in the North and East.
- Evantage Bank had a technology theme and targeted consumers in the West.
- Redneck Bank’s theme is humor.
AmericaNet Bank and Evantage Bank were budgeted $10,000 per month for bidding keywords on search engines.
Not so for Redneck Bank. Its advertising budget was less than $1,000 total, which went toward two billboards in Lawton, Oklahoma. Those went up in October, 2008. Within 50 days—and with no other advertising or social media promotion—Redneck Bank had opened accounts in all 50 states. Each day, it was getting 1,000 calls and opening 350 accounts. By March, 2009, the site had 1.2 million hits for the month. It had to quadruple its call center capacity.
In the wake of the financial crisis of 2008, All America Bank ended up merging with its two sister institutions, and Redneck Bank became the one surviving internet branch. The other two internet brands were successful, but Redneck was much cheaper to promote.
“Somehow, it advertises itself,” Huckabay said. “We have to turn off the new account opening software now and then, when we are getting more new account business than we have capital to support.”
And who, exactly, is Redneck Bank targeting?
“People with a sense of humor,” Huckabay said.
Redneck Bank has more account holders from California than Oklahoma. There’s also a major draw from Texas, Florida, and New York. “I have found that people in every state have a sense of humor,” he added.
The real “R” word is risk.
Banks are known for their risk aversion. And the word redneck is open to many interpretations. Has there been any backlash over any aspect of the site?
“No,” Huckabay said. But he acknowledges that design plays a key role in setting the right tone. “We are very careful to use only animals and objects when illustrating our attempts at humor. So far, this philosophy has served us well.”
Why is this working?
It may be easier to explain how to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. But here are some things to think about:
- The tagline on the Redneck site is “Where bankin’s funner!”
- Huckabay’s story made it clear that the bank did not originally set out to be fun when it embarked on its internet branch initiative. The goal was to engage a nationwide customer base with a streamlined digital experience and competitive rates. The offbeat name was really just a side effect of the need to stand out in a crowded field.
- Consider too that banking is a serious business—people entrust banks with the money they need to provide their families with basic life necessities. They depend on banks to finance their homes, businesses, and educations. That makes banking an unnerving ordeal for many consumers.
In the end, this may be a story about the serendipity that occurs when a bank makes an earnest effort to do something that’s truly different—in a way that matters to ordinary consumers.
Do folks really want banking to be fun?
“I believe many people view banks as stuffy places,” Huckabay said. He wonders whether that seriousness might have stigmatized the industry. Redneck Bank, in his view, “is exactly the opposite of stuffy. It projects the immediate benefit of a positive attitude, and represents an attempt to create a fresh, funny, and happy place.” He might have something there.
Because, for banks of all sizes—but most of all for the smaller ones—doing the same old thing is no longer a choice. “We felt like this is the future,” Huckabay said. “We need to either get with it and get busy or do something else.”