- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 16, 2004

ING Direct is banking on yesterday’s free Metro ride promotion to get new customers.

The bank spent more than $600,000 to get the word out to thousands of Metro riders yesterday morning about its company, which does business online, over the phone and by mail.

“When we launch into a new market, we want to show customers how easy it is to save money with us,” said Ashlee Stokes, a company spokeswoman. “We’re not a traditional bank. This [event] is a way to differentiate.”

Metro officials don’t know how many people rode the Metrorail and Metrobus during the morning promotion. The fare gates were open and not tracking the number of riders, said Lisa Farbstein, a spokeswoman for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.

The Wilmington, Del., bank, which does not have traditional bank branches, advertised at Metro stops and had about 80 people in orange jackets stationed at the stops to answer questions and reiterate the company’s message of saving money. Orange is ING Direct’s corporate color.

ING Direct employees also rode the Metro and answered questions from potential customers.

“This is a nice way to get the message out and put a face on who we are,” Ms. Stokes said.

Cary Hatch, president of MDB Communications in the District, applauds the effort.

“It’s smart and relevant,” she said. “It makes their brand and their message more real.”

Other companies have taken a nontraditional approach to advertising.

For example, businesses like the Maryland Lottery and the Ocean Conservancy took advantage of a similar program at the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. The companies sponsored tolls over the Bay Bridge at certain times during the summer.

“Everyone is looking for a more effective way to reach customers because it continues to get harder and harder,” Ms. Hatch said.

ING Direct has given away free rides before.

The company began the unique strategy in Boston on March 6, 2002, paying for the rides of 150,000 morning commuters on the city’s public transportation. The company received a 147 percent increase in phone calls from Boston in the three weeks after the promotion, compared to the three weeks before the event.

ING Direct has also given away free gas in Los Angeles and paid for public transportation in San Francisco — both resulting in an increase in customers. Advertising in Los Angeles before its “Save at the Pump” promotion and the event itself landed 35,000 new accounts.

Earlier this month, the company gave away 15,500 gallons of gas at three Shell stations in Baltimore and offered free movies at two Regal Cinemas in the area.

Ms. Stokes said the strategy is to focus on markets where there is already a concentration of customers, as well as where there is a clutter of other banks that aren’t differentiating themselves.

The regional promotions are part of an integrated advertising and marketing campaign that includes other traditional mediums like television and billboards.

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