To Bee or Not To Bee?

4/24/2017

By Marilyn Titone Schaefer
AVP, Communications Director

Barnaby Bee has pretty much exited the INB marketing landscape, but his legacy remains. When you step into the offices of many INB employees, you’ll find a stuffed Barnaby Bee. In other offices, you’ll find some bee paraphernalia including a couple of versions of bee “piggy” banks. And in a few offices, you’ll find bees, bees and more bees.

When I joined the bank a couple of years ago, it seemed odd to me that he wasn’t part of the bank’s marketing efforts. I’d just left a job where we were actively trying to engage customers with a new mascot, and I couldn’t understand why INB would choose NOT to use a character that many people still associated with INB. As a matter of fact, when I joined INB, my baby brother – a full 10 years younger and living in New Jersey for more than two decades now – asked, “Can you get me a bee?”

Early History of Barnaby

INB Board Member Jim Antonacci worked for the original INB and was one of the founders of today’s Illinois National Bank. He explains that back in the 60s, INB worked with Harris Bank out of Chicago.” At the time, all the Chicago banks were using mascots; Harris used Herbert the Lion.” The ad agency doing work for INB recommended the bee mascot for the bank; the bee was first used in 1966.

Barnaby bee, INBJim says the bee was part of everything. Kids sent him cards for his birthday. There was even a “name the bee,” contest. “Barnaby” was the winner, and soon he was swinging a golf club on golf towels. The bank staff gave out stuffed bees at new account openings. The bank basketball team members proudly wore Barnaby’s image on their shirts. Cheerleaders came to the games dressed as bees. And, naturally, there were bee “piggy” banks!

Jim adds, “Our marketing department at the time did a good job of using the bee in promotions with young people by using Barnaby on things like Frisbees and coloring books.” (Which explains my brother’s desire for a stuffed bee many years later.) Jim says he heard similar stories as he greeted customers at 322 E. Capitol Ave. when the new INB opened in 1999. “I had a woman tell me that as a kid, she had won a bicycle for creating a birthday card for Barnaby.” He adds that the bank eventually added stuffed bees to its lobbies, and he took great joy watching little kids run through the doors and grab the bees.

I recently talked to a colleague from LRS, Andy Krug, who remembers having his parents take him to INB just to get a bee bank. He adds his dad also drove him to the old Marine Bank to get a Captain Marine “piggy” bank. “I have them both to this day,” says Andy.

Jim Gvazdinskas was INB’s marketing director in the early to mid 70s. He says, “I really thought we could make Barnaby as well known in Springfield as Ronald McDonald was. So we used him on everything.” Gvazdinskas says it was important to him that Barnaby resonate with kids, because they were the bank’s future customers. “I’d get him into the schools as much as we could. . . . We would teach young people how money works.” And Barnaby was part of that training.

Jim explains the bank even tried to give Barnaby a voice during his tenure. “We were using an ad agency at the time, and together we just couldn’t seem to get it right.” So that explains why, to this day, Barnaby has remained silent.

While still voiceless, today’s Barney is much friendlier looking than in the early days. In the bank’s main headquarters, there’s the “scary” stuffed animal hidden away in the board room’s cabinetry. Happily, he put on a better face in later stuffed animal renditions.

New INB Opens with a Buzz

When Jim Antonacci and his friends opened the new INB in 1999, they took full advantage of Barnaby’s notoriety. “We bought billboards that said, ‘We’re back’ with the bee in the corner. These got a lot of attention.” He says the bank also used the theme, “We’re buzzing with new ideas.” It was perfect for a new bank, working to stand out from the big banks that were all over Springfield in the late 1990s.

Now What?

All of which brings me to the question: To Bee or Not to Bee? When Shakespeare’s Hamlet asked, “To be or not to be,” he was contemplating death and suicide. Our question isn’t nearly that deep. It’s simply, should we use Barnaby in our marketing . . . or not?

Recently, we asked graphic designer Julie Roland of B. Creative Graphic Design to give Barnaby a refresh. Her concepts have him sporting an INB blue t-shirt. He’s even flexing a little muscle. His eyes now have lids. He has a nose.

Tell us what you think about the updated Barnaby.

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