News Column

Charleston Daily Mail, W.Va., Jared Hunt column

June 2, 2014

By Jared Hunt, Charleston Daily Mail, W.Va.

June 02--We've all heard the cliche, "The pen is mightier than the sword."

Well, the folks at Huntington Bank hope the pen proves mightier than . . . well, other forms of marketing.

In 2010 the Columbus, Ohio-based banking company decided to detach the pens located at its nearly 700 branches across the Midwest from the traditional ball chains that connected them to branch counters.

Perhaps taking a page from former Attorney General Darrell McGraw's playbook, the bank placed its green and black pens in white bowls and encouraged customers to take them.

The 5.5-inch pens, available at Huntington branches in Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Indiana, West Virginia and Kentucky, were embellished with the words "Huntington" and "Welcome."

It was a symbolic gesture to represent the company's broader efforts to break away from standard industry practices.

"Liberating our pens from their ball chains was just one step in our journey to differentiate Huntington in the marketplace and reinforce our culture of making customers feel welcome," said David Clifton, the company's chief marketing officer.

The bank, of course, made broader efforts to attract customers, including unveiling its "Fair Play" banking program, and trademarked Asterisk-Free Checking and 24-Hour Grace products. It also rebranded its branch network, ATMs and apparel to further represent its "welcome culture."

While those changes have a more direct effect on the company's bottom line, executives have been surprised to find the pen promotion has taken on a life of its own.

In the first month, the company sent out 331,000 pens to its branches -- a number that ramped up rather quickly. The banking company now issues more than 600,000 pens a month to keep up with the demand.

Four years after starting the program, the company has given away more than 20 million pens to customers across the Midwest.

"We never expected the pens to become as popular as they are," Clifton said. "The quality of the pens has become a regular theme with countless anecdotes from everyday pen users including customers, waiters and pizza delivery drivers about how they last. Customers also tell us stories about where they have seen them in their travels."

The company has even compiled a list of stories about interesting places the pens have turned up. They include:

A Huntington customer flew to India and was greeted by a customs official using a Huntington pen.

A U.S. military member stationed in Afghanistan received a box of goodies from home, which included Huntington pens. He gave a couple away within his troop, and days later met with Afghan Nationals who were writing with them.

During the funeral scene in the movie "Bad Grandpa," one of the extras is wearing a Huntington pen on a chain around his neck.

The company said its employees have even spotted competitors using Huntington pens, including in the drive-thru tubes at other banks.

Huntington plans to continue the promotion until it gives away 34 million pens -- one for each household in its banking territory.


(c)2014 the Charleston Daily Mail (Charleston, W.Va.)

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Source: Charleston Daily Mail (WV)

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