The touching story of a repurposed billboard.

The week of March 16th was like nothing I had ever experienced. That Monday morning The Weaponry, my advertising and idea agency, met with the University of Wisconsin Credit Union about updating their outdoor billboards and TV commercials in response to the emerging COVID-19 crisis.

By the end of the day, The Weaponry presented a whole new billboard campaign. The new outdoor boards were up practically overnight in both Madison and Milwaukee. In the process, The Weaponry set new turnaround expectations that are likely to haunt me for the rest of my career.

Standing Together

I was very proud of the new work that we developed in a single day. I especially loved the billboard that said, ‘Even when we’re apart we, stand together.’  It was a great way to express UW Credit Union’s promise to be Here for every you. During that time of growing isolation and uncertainty, as our community faced both a health and financial crisis, the message was spot on. And true.

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Rome was not built in a day. But a new UW Credit Union billboard campaign was.

George Floyd

Two months later, just as our nation was beginning to emerge from the COVID-19-induced isolation, George Floyd was killed by police officers, and our country found itself deep in another crisis.

In the days since George Floyd’s murder, people across the country have searched for ways to express their outrage and create change. Some have found powerful forces for progress. A few have engaged in more divisive actions. Unfortunately, the media coverage of the divisive has far exceeded that of the progressive. Because flames, shattered glass, and unpaid for merchandise with legs make for more interesting video than peaceful demonstrations.

Back To The Billboard

Early Tuesday morning I received an email from Anne Norman, the Chief Marketing Officer at UW Credit Union. She had received an update from Adams Outdoor, the billboard company in Madison, Wisconsin. As the Adams team (no relation) arrived to do a scheduled replacement of the We Stand Together billboard they discovered the billboard has been spray-painted with the words George Floyd. They took a picture of the graffitied billboard and shared it with us so we could see what had happened.

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The George Floyd Board. It features a curious extra E, removed by Yellow-Out.

Wow

Anne and I were both struck by how powerful the graffitied board was. And we thought it would have been better to have simply left the billboard and its modified message in place. I suggested that we share the George Floyd board via our social channels.

Anne suggested an even better idea. She asked what I thought of putting the graffitied board back up. I thought it was an excellent idea.

The Reposting

Yesterday, on June 3rd, UW Credit Union reposted the George Floyd Board. Except this time they had it posted in one of the highest visibility locations in Madison, on the top of the Adams Outdoor building, beside the highly trafficked beltline. Because you know that a good billboard company always saves the best location for itself.

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The new home of the George Floyd Board. (Try saying George Floyd Board 10 times fast.)

Proud Partner

I am extremely proud to partner with UW Credit Union. It’s an organization fully committed to the communities it serves. I am proud of Anne Norman for making a courageous decision to repost this billboard, a billboard that no longer features the UW Credit Union logo, in support of George Floyd, the Black community and the Black Lives Matters movement.

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This is how Anne Norman shared the story in her own words. She uses the word ‘We’ a lot, as does everyone at UW Credit Union. But know that she was instrumental in making this happen. 

Key Takeaway

Do what you can to make a difference. Stand together. Work together. Support each other. Always do what you know is right. Like my friend Anne Norman and millions of others across America who are determined to leave this world better than they found it.

*If you know someone who could benefit from this message, please share it with them.

First came the new brand look. Then came the awards.

A year and a half ago I had a very big lunch in a very small town. Johnson Creek, Wisconsin has a population of just 2,738. But Johnson Creek sits halfway between Milwaukee and Madison, Wisconsin. Which is why I met Anne Norman there for lunch at Hiway Harry’s. Conceptually and architecturally, the restaurant lies halfway between a Rain Forest Cafe and a Frank Loyd Wright-inspired supper club. Which is a very unique space to occupy.

Anne Norman

Anne Norman had just recently been named Chief Marketing Officer of the University of Wisconsin Credit Union. She arrived at the credit union after crushing it for such great brands as Culver’s restaurants and American Family Insurance. Our mutual friend Sue Northey told us that we needed to meet each other, and helped arrange the Hiway Harry’s adventure.

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One Anne Norman and a microphone. #whereitsat

When we met, Anne was looking for an agency to help her make the UW Credit Union marketing as great as the UWCU member experience. And members looooove the UW Credit Union. I know. I became a member my third day on campus as a student at The University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Anne and I had a great conversation. We found that we were totally aligned on our approach to strategy, creativity and process. We laughed a lot. And we left Hiway Harry’s excited to work together. #suewasright

Making It Happen

My advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, quickly got to work on repositioning and rebranding the UW Credit Union. Then, on February 14th, 2019 we revealed the new look and the new work at the UWCU’s leadership conference at the beautiful, Frank Loyd Wright designed Monona Terrace Conference Center, in Madison. I wrote about the experience in A fresh new look for one of the most loved brands in Wisconsin.

Addy Awards

Exactly 1 year and 1 day later, Anne and our teams were back at the Monona Terrace in Madison for the local Addy Awards. To be clear, I am not an advertising awards person. I prefer to avoid the conflict of interests between creating work to drive results for your clients and creating ads to win awards. I also prefer to avoid dressing up altogether.

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Me and Anne, ready for the award show to begin. Noting that this place was no Hiway Harry’s.

But in this case, Anne Norman knew the work we created was really good. Our key  performance indicators (KPIs) told us the campaign was working as anticipated for UW Credit Union. So Anne wanted to see how the creative stacked up against other work at the Addy Awards.

The Entries

We entered a few billboards and a couple of radio spots in the awards show. Soon I was notified that we had won 5 awards. We were also strongly encouraged to attend the show. And to bring Anne Norman, her trusty sidekick Justine Kessler, and their husbands Devlin and Mike. So we did.

Winning

We knew which entries had won something. But we didn’t know what they had won. Kind of like when the Dad from A Christmas Story receives his fragile crate. Except when we busted our crate open we didn’t find a leg lamp.

Radio

The first entry to win an award was a radio commercial called Cool Mom. It won gold. Which apparently is good. It’s a cute spot that was fun to make. And always fun to hear on the radio.IMG_2019 2

The winning radio commercial

Billboards

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In the Out of Home category, this ad won a Gold. The ‘or no’ ending is a funny thing people in Wisconson commonly say. Have you heard someone say that, or no?

 

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This billboard won a silver. For those of you who are geographically challenged, Milwaukee lies on the western shore of Lake Michigan (which is a huge lake that not even Sarah Palin can see across). This enormous body of fresh, unsalted and shark-free water sucks the heat out of the air all spring long to raise the temperature of the lake. Leaving communities along the lake cooler until the water temperature stabilizes in early June.
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This ad also won an Addy Award too. In Wisconsin brats rhyme with knots, and are german sausages. Not poorly behaved children. Oh, and they are served on rolls.

But wait! There’s more!

We also entered the 3 billboards above with the additional billboard below in an outdoor campaign entry called ‘Hello Milwaukee!’ It won a Judge’s Choice Award. Which meant that one of the 3 judges felt that this was the best thing in the entire show.

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In the Metro Milwaukee area we have a lot of funny city names. Many stem from Native American names. And you can open a UW Credit Union checking account from home in any of these Aukees.

Judge’s Choice

Here’s what Judge Carl (no relation to Judge Judy) had to say about our campaign. (My apologies if he is actually Judge Karl.)

Thanks!

I appreciate the fact that The Weaponry and UW Credit Union won these awards. But we didn’t need an awards show to know the work was good. We know that the ads work. They grab attention. They make people giggle. They are remembered. And they have helped the UW Credit Union quickly drive a XX% increase in awareness in Milwaukee. Which nailed our goal. (I put XX because I didn’t ask for permission to share the actual number. But notice that there are 2 Xs and not just one! Go UWCU!)

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Me, Sarah Disanza, Justine Kessler and Anne Norman, staying gold, like Pony Boy.

Roll The Credits!

Thanks to our Weapons Kristyn Lilley who designed the UW Credit Union brand look. And to Kevin Kayse, the writer who helped bring these adds to life. Thanks to Simon Harper for writing a great brief with a British accent. And thanks to Anne Norman for meeting me at Hiway Harry’s. For hiring The Weaponry. And for both demanding and approving great creative work.

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Key Takeaway

Awards are nice. But they should never drive the work. In advertising the only thing that really matters is whether or not the work helps your clients grow. But if the work drives growth, like it has for the UW Credit Union, the awards are a nice cherry on top. Thank you to everyone at UW Credit Union for allowing us to join your team. We look forward to great things ahead!

How to make the most of a 7-hour commute.

Last Friday evening the commute from my office to my home was 7 hours-long. Not 7 minutes. 7 hours. While that may not be surprising in cities like Atlanta and Los Angeles, it is outside the normal range most other places.

I left the office at 5pm and didn’t pull into my driveway until just after 11pm. You math wizards are probable thinking, ‘Bro, that is 6 hours!’ (Actually, I hope all of you are thinking that.) But it was 7 hours. Because I crossed a time zone in the middle of the drive.

The Reason

This reason the commute took 7 hours was not because of construction, an accident, weather or car problems. It was because I drove home from my office in Columbus, Ohio to my home in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

The Home Office Strategy

When I launched my advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, I adopted a home office strategy. Which meant that I wanted to have an office every place I’ve had a home. The strategy allows me to regularly travel to the places I feel most at home. It means I can continue to spend time with the close friends I’ve accumulated across the country. It also means that I can hire former teammates again. And become a great local resources for my former clients. (That is if I am not adding them to my team too…) #foreshadowing

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Spending time with my friend Troy Allen, Founder of Rise Brands, is a great benefit of having a Columbus office. And look at that nuclear-strength light bulb over my head! #bigideas

The Weaponry C-Bus

The Weaponry has had an office in Columbus since March of 2019. We have a full-time creative team in that office. We are planning on adding more team members in Columbus by the end of the year as we continue to expand our presence in the Buckeye State.

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Ohio Weapons in The Weaponry Ohio

Making Magic

Last week in Columbus I met with people I am recruiting. I met with potential collaborators and potential clients. I introduced a couple of exciting brand-building side projects to my team, in which The Weaponry itself could be developing its own brands. We also edited 7 new videos and commercials for one of our best clients.

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Last Friday the Weapons ate at Johnnies Tavern, home of the Super Burgers. But I had my first fried baloney sandwich. Which tastes a lot like a hot dog sandwich.

Unusual Things

As I wrapped up my work day on Friday and prepared to head home to Milwaukee I did 2 things I don’t usually do. First, at 4:30pm ET I called the local Donatos Pizza in Grandview, and ordered 2 large pepperoni pizzas. If you haven’t had a Donatos thin crust pepperoni pizza, with at least 100 slices of pepperoni on each large pizza, you are missing out. It is in an elite class with In-N-Out Burgers and Chick Fil-A nuggets as an elevated version of a classic American staple.

However, the pizzas were not for me. They were for my wife and kids in Milwaukee who needed a Donatos fix. (They also asked for bread from the Beehive Bakery in Powell, and the store-made tortilla chips from the Whole Foods in Dublin, which we have not found at a Whole Foods anywhere else in the country.)

Calling All Callers

The second unusual thing I did was share a message on Instagram requesting people to call me. The message looked somewhat exactly like this:

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@adamalbrecht

Commute-I-Cating

When I drive alone I love to catch up with people on the phone. This trip turned into a catch-up fest. On my drive I caught up with friends and family in:

  • New York City
  • Vermont
  • New Hampshire
  • Chicago
  • Atlanta
  • Houston
  • Minneapolis
  • Indiana
  • Pittsburgh
  • Milwaukee
  • Stevens Point
  • Madison
  • Appleton
  • St. Paul
  • North Carolina
  • Columbus
  • Milwaukee

Strengthen Your Bonds Like Barry

Keeping in contact with your people is really important. It’s how you invest in your relationships and continue to grow them. Unfortunately, most people spend very little time calling, texting or meeting up with people they haven’t seen in a long time. Those are exactly the people I love to reach out to most. Because the more recent your social interactions, the stronger your social bonds. (Bonds. Social Bonds.)

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Those connected road ways are great places to connect with your connections.

The Last Leg of The Journey

As I neared the end of my commute I drove through Milwaukee. It was 11pm CT on a  beautiful summer night as I rolled through Brew City. If you’ve never been to Milwaukee, it is as a nice of a place to be during the summer as anywhere in America. I had my window down, my sunroof open (despite the lack of sun) and my music up as I hit my last 15 miles.

It was then that I was greeted by 2 fun surprises in downtown Milwaukee. I saw 2 billboards The Weaponry created for the UW Credit Union. They stood tall and clear and bright against the Milwaukee night. They were created to promote the expansion of the UW Credit Union footprint in Milwaukee.

Billboard Thing #1

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Billboard Thing #2

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Having these new billboards greet me after 6.5 hours of driving was a treat. Seeing your work in place, grabbing attention and offering a smile is always fun. But at that hour of night, at that point in my drive, they felt like a couple of juicy red cherries on top of a juicy red day.

Key Takeaway

We only get one shot at life. So be greedy. Design a life that lets you combine all of your favorite things. Find work you enjoy. Spend time with the people you enjoy. Live in and frequently visit the places you enjoy most. Keep your relationships active. And live like you are on one epic roadtrip. Because you are.

A fresh new look for one of the most loved brands in Wisconsin.

Last summer I got a very interesting call from a friend. She said she was conducting research for the University of Wisconsin Credit Union. And that following the research they would be looking for an agency partner, in Wisconsin, to help rebrand them. She began telling me how the UW Credit Union was a remarkable organization, with great people who delivered an excellent member experience. But I stopped her before she could finish. I said ‘Oh, I know all about the UW Credit Union.’

(To skip the fun back story you can scroll to the bottom, DVR-Style, to see the new work. But you will miss some interesting points and a giggle or two.) 

Back In the Day (When I was raised I’m not a kid anymore…)

I am a proud University of Wisconsin Badger. On my 3rd day in Madison, my freshman year in college, I made what I thought would be a quick trip to the UW Credit Union near my dorm. But when I approached the UW Credit Union it seemed that all 43,000 UW students were already in line in front of me. The only other lines I ever saw that long in Madison were outside Camp Randall Stadium on Saturday mornings, and in front of the Kollege Klub on Saturday nights.

I joined what appeared to be the entire student body, and stood in the longest line of my life, holding all of the money I had ever earned. All to open my UW Credit Union checking and savings accounts. I thought this place must be special.

And it was.

You’re So Money, You Don’t Even Know You’re Money!

The UW Credit Union became my primary financial institution, and would be for the next 15 years. My first auto loan was with the UW Credit Union. I borrowed $3000, paid it off in 11 months, and felt like a financial baller. But in 2007 an exciting career opportunities came calling, and it was time for me to fly (…time for me to fly…). So I left America’s Dairy Land, and the domain of the UW Credit Union.

Leaving Wisconsin (The Wander Years)

I moved to Columbus, Ohio, and then on to Atlanta, working my way up to the title of Chief Creative Officer. Then in 2016 I launched my advertising and idea agency, The Weaponry, and moved back to Wisconsin to be closer to family.  I had worked with several esteemed financial institutions, including Fifth Third Bank, Wells Fargo, and Huntington Bank along the way. And now I was hoping to put all of my financial experience to use with UW Credit Union.

They Meet

My friend Sue Northey introduced me to UW Credit Union’s Chief Marketing Officer, Anne Norman via email. We decided to meet for lunch. But I was in Milwaukee, and Anne was in Madison. So we met in Johnson Creek, an Outlet Malltropolis located directly between Wisconsin’s two largest cities.

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Anne Norman, about to sing the theme song from Laverne and Shirley.

Anne and I met for lunch at Hi-Way Harry’s, which for the unfamiliar, is the Rainforest Cafe of Johnson Creek. We had instant rapport. Although I think Anne has instant rapport with everyone. We quickly realized we shared the same vision for how great the UW Credit Union brand could be. We began talking next steps. Which are always my favorite steps.

The Mission

We put together a thorough proposal that was quickly approved. And we started to roll. We were about to strip the branding down to the studs, and reconsider everything. The logo, tagline, colors and personality would all be re-examined. When we were done we would create a look, language and personality that matched how great the UW Credit Union membership experience really was. Then we would create a fully integrated marketing campaign to bring the brand to life.

Assembling The Team.

My fellow Weapons, Simon ‘Sharper’ Harper, Kristyn’ K-Lil’ Lilley, Kevin ‘Lower’ Kayse and I met with the UW Credit Union’s marketing team, including Anne ’40-Under-40′ Norman, Justine ‘Happy Tears’ Kessler, April ‘Spring’ Laabs, Jocelyn ‘Let’s Ride’ Vande Velde, Becky ‘Shock Value’ Hubing, Jill ‘Rickert’ Rickert, Jill ‘Addy’ Addy, Andy ‘Hugs’ Schubert and Melissa ‘Everything Bagel’ Stapleton (because she does everything, not because she likes everything bagels).

Discovery

We started by digesting all that had been gathered about the UW Credit Union. The research revealed some really important findings, including:

  1. UW Credit Union is a very special place.
  2. UW Credit Union members love their experience.
  3. UW Credit Union invests time and energy in our members well before a bank would find any financial value in them.
  4. UW Credit Union really cares about the communities it serves.

However…

There was a common misperception that UW Credit Union was a starter bank. (Gasp!) Which is totes not true. But the strong and valuable association with the University of Wisconsin made people think it was a financial institution for college kids and recent graduates. They didn’t realize that UW Credit Union was an excellent financial institution for all ages and stages.

It was time to set the record straight.

Tagline

We explored a wide range of taglines to summarize how we support our members from their teenage years through retirement. Life changes bring on different needs and opportunities. And at the UW Credit Union we want to help you no matter where you are on your financial journey.

The new tagline:

UW Credit Union. Here for every you.

We are Here, whenever you need us. Which talks to UW Credit Union’s customer service that made them Forbes #1 rated credit union in the state. We are also Here in Wisconsin, just like our members. It explains why we care about your community, your neighborhoods, and your causes. Because they are ours too. We love the emphasis on You, the member. Because as a credit union, we only exist to serve you and your needs. Every symbolizes our flexibility and ability to adapt as your needs change.

Logo

We wanted a logo that was cleaner, simpler and easier to use. We wanted a contemporary look. And we wanted to it give us an identity that was distinct from other UW-related organizations, including UW-Health and The UW System itself.

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The old logo. It was ready for a good makeover.

New UW Credit Union Logo

The logo highlights the first priority of the organization: you. By highlighting the U in the  name in our flagship color, and making it of equal weight and importance to the name of our institution, we also convey our sense of responsibility to those we serve: You, our members. We also opted for a lower case ‘u’ because it felt more approachable, which is a distinguishing factor of the UW Credit Union. Also, we have taken the liberty to use ‘U’ and ‘You’ interchangeably. #creativelicence

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The new logo. If you overlay the square and the circle from the old logo you can see the inspiration for the new U-Leaf shape.

Advertising

With the new logo, tagline and brand standards in place, we began putting the new brand look to good use. We started creating all manner of new materials in a fully integrated program

First out of the gate are these New Billboards.

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If you know anything about Wisconsin you know we love to jump around. (Jump! Jump! Jump!)
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A very wise plant once said, ‘It’s been a long time since I rock ‘n’ rolled.’
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One of these is typically immature, the other is typically mature. But not always.
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Eventually, we all transition.
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People in Wisconsin have a funny was of saying things…
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From George and Weezy to The Wiz!

There are also new print ads.

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We treat everyone like an insider. Even Soda Pop and Pony Boy.
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This will appear in the Milwaukee Brewers program. And maybe a few popular dentist publication.

Radio

Here’s a radio script currently on air. I would attach the audio file, but I would have to upgrade my account to do that. And it’s too late at night to take on such monumental tasks.

At The UW Credit Union, we like to say we knew you way back when. When your only mode of transportation was the heel-toe express. When the only wheels you owned were connected to a pedal. We knew you when the only home you had ever considered buying was on a monopoly board. When your financial future was defined by the next pay check.  We knew you when your family was still supporting you. It was then, when you greatest asset was your work ethic and a dream, that we first invested in you.  The UW Credit Union. Here For Every You.

Credit Card Design

We then helped redesign the new UW Credit Cards. We turned the design on its head. Literally. Instead of the traditional horizontal design, we designed this card for the chip reader era, with a vertical orientation. To keep the design clean and simple we moved all the hard-working elements, including card holder name, number, contact info and legalese to the back of the card.

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Creating UW Credit Union credit cards was an in-creditable experience.

What’s Next

The new brand will also impact UW Credit Union branch design, television commercials,  sponsorships, debit cards and more. But the member experience will remain as good as advertised. Because people love the UW Credit Union experience. And we have certainly loved working with this great brand and the great team behind it. We look forward to all there is to come.

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This billboard showed up across the street from The Weaponry, where it was born.