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Direct-Deposit Marketing

To woo Manhattanites, Wachovia bank tries guerrilla tactics.

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Jae Parlae and his colleague Skorn were standing outside the new Wachovia bank on Park and 48th last week, handing out gourmet pretzels and trying to entice passersby to switch to Wachovia by acting out sardonic mini-skits. “Wachovia—it’s the only bank that won’t walk all over ya!” shouted Parlae to Skorn. “Give the greatest gift of all,” Skorn, a veteran street promoter who once dressed up as a Florida orange, yelled back. “The gift of banking!”

This is the fifth Wachovia branch of twelve set to open in the city. Most have opened with a pep rally: At the first, Clay Aiken dropped by, and street teams patrolled a three-block radius, distributing 10,000 Krispy Kreme doughnuts dipped in blue and green sprinkles (Wachovia’s corporate colors). A radical marketing plan for a bank, it is the result of months of research. Wachovia recently merged with First Union and is trying to present itself as a financial powerhouse for the little guy. (First step: Remove the bulletproof glass at tellers’ windows to seem “more warm and inviting.”)

“We held a focus group with actual Manhattanites, and no one had ever heard of us,” says Christine Shaw, Wachovia’s communications manager. “Some people didn’t even know how to pronounce our name.” A few thought it was German. “So we trained our street teams to perform skits, so passersby subliminally hear ‘Wachovia.’ ”

So far, the bank has tried this strategy only in New York. Is it working? “I just don’t see the link between pretzels and wanting to change banks,” said Doria Asen, an attorney strolling briskly past. That said, Parlae, the barker, had at least managed to convince himself. “I’m gonna sign up,” he said. “Hey, it’s a start.”


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