Charles Davis talks to Linda Verba, executive
vice-president of retail operations for TD Bank in the US, about
the Canadian bank’s rebranding of its US franchise, Commerce
Bancorp. Vernon Hill, ex-CEO of Commerce, criticised the
rebranding, arguing that the name was an all-too-valuable asset to
the franchise.

When Toronto-Dominion Financial (TD) announced the $8 billion
acquisition of Commerce Bancorp in October 2007 (see RBI
) the deal had all the makings of a difficult integration:
a somewhat staid Canadian parent buys a wildly successful US bank
with a distinctly unconventional footprint and an intensely loyal
customer base.To make matters worse, TD also had its separate TD
Banknorth branded franchise scattered throughout the Atlantic Coast
region to manage as well.

Initially, TD planned to maintain the Commerce name, hoping to
call the combined banks TD Commerce. A lawsuit filed by Commerce
Bank & Trust in the state of Massachusetts, derailed the plan,
and so TD shortened the name for all branches to TD Bank.

While the brand retains the famous green TD shield, the Canadian
group has retained Commerce’s equally famous slogan, “America’s
Most Convenient Bank”, which it had used since 1996. Commerce,
driven by its founder and CEO Vernon Hill, had used that tagline to
revolutionise US retail banking under its Power Banking

But in an interview in RBI last December (see RBI
), Hill, now looking at starting up new banks in the US and
UK, said: “If you paid $8.5 billion for what was recognised as one
of the best brands in the East coast in banking, why would you go
out of your way to destroy the name and the brand?”

Linda Verba, executive vice-president of retail operations for
TD Bank, says that TD was determined to maintain that culture while
changing names, and to do so in a way that satisfied its various
customer bases.

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Over the last weekend in October last year, Commerce Bank and TD
branches in the Mid-Atlantic region switched over to the
institution’s new master brand. That is 613 facilities re-branded
in a single weekend, and Verba, who picked up two banking awards
for Commerce Bank back in 2006 from RBI (see RBI
), oversaw the entire monumental undertaking.

“It was an awesome process, and you plan and you plan and you
have all these contingencies and anything can happen,” Verba said.
“Commerce Bank has never been through a brand change at all, so we
approached with this ‘Of course we can!’ attitude, and that really

Verba said the makeover was designed to give the entire TD Bank
footprint a reason to pay attention to the newest bank in town.

“TD is a global, recognised brand, known around the world but
not so much in the States, so we wanted to hit our organic deposit
markets as hard as we could,” she said. “We really wanted to grab
people’s attention.”

And grab they did. In Philadelphia, the name change was heralded
by a celebration complete with a jaw-dropping aerialist who soared
around the building on guide wires, like a Cirque du Soleil
runaway. Then the master of ceremonies tossed baskets of Phillies
World Series hats and T-shirts into the crowd – even if they were
Commerce red, instead of TD green.

At train stations and malls, busy city streets and sporting
events and other gatherings, TD Bank “convenience crews” suddenly
appeared, surprising people with gifts.

“We sent them to malls and they wrapped gifts in a subtle green
wrapping paper for Christmas shoppers, for free,” Verba said. “We
gave away 20,000 pizzas and tens of thousands of cups of coffee,
just for fun really, as a way to spread the brand.”

Verba said that market research has revealed that customers
value the Commerce brand for far more than just the name, and place
much more emphasis on the services that Commerce has stood for, all
of which TD Bank has been careful to maintain.

“To former Commerce customers, TD is about solidity, stability,
and maintaining the things that made Commerce great,” she said. “In
the focus groups, one customer said ‘I don’t care what letter you
are or what the sign says, I want to know that when I open the door
I am going to see the same people and have access to the same
products.’ That really spoke to us.”

Replicating the look and feel of Commerce

TD was careful to replicate the look and feel of Commerce in
much of what it is doing, both in the branch and in its marketing

TD Bank has returned the longtime Commerce spokespersons, TV
stars Regis Philbin and Kelly Ripa of the popular daytime talk
show, Live With Regis and Kelly.

In one TV spot, Philbin is seen lying back on a green couch in
what seems like a psychiatrist’s office, which turns out to be a TD
Bank branch.

Philbin, deep in therapy, says “Regis doesn’t like change. Regis
is getting nervous.”

A man sitting next to him says, “OK, let’s just relax; we can
work through this. Are the faces the same?”

Philbin: “Yeah.”

Man: “Are you being treated any differently?”

Philbin: “No, you’re still here for me.”

Man: “Is anything being taken from you?”

Philbin: “No, in fact I’m getting even more.”

It’s a clever spot, and one that oozes continuity and
reassurance – absolutely vital in times like these.