In The News

Inside U.S. Bank’s Super Bowl Strategy

Tearsheet, January 25, 2018

By Suman Bhattacharyya

For a company with some money, there’s no better opportunity for exposure than the Super Bowl. Just ask U.S. Bank, whose hometown of Minneapolis will host 125,000 visitors coming for the big game next week.

During the week of the event, it’s placing ads that will “take over” a light rail station near the stadium, and Super Bowl-branded ATMs will let customers donate to the American Red Cross. It isn’t an official NFL sponsor, but it will be placing TV ads that will run locally during the Super Bowl pregame show, along with sponsored videos on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and a Snapchat filter. It won’t be running national ads during the game. The bank is in its third year of a 20-year deal that gives it naming rights to the stadium hosting Super Bowl events. It was also a bank lender that helped finance the stadium.

“It’s an opportunity for us to expose existing and future consumers to the brand and tell the story of who we are as a company,” said Chris Lee, head of sponsorships for the Minneapolis-based bank. “This is our crown jewel, having our bank step onto a national platform — it’s an awareness play.”

The timing of the Super Bowl comes at a convenient time for U.S. Bank, which launched a massive rebranding effort two years ago. It’s a strong performer in the industry with a reputation for strong leadership and talent and competitive products and services, and with $459 billion in assets it’s the fifth-largest bank by assets in the country. But all of that doesn’t necessarily translate to consumers and potential customers, who barely recognize it as a universal brand.

“From a sponsor perspective, what we’re trying to do is align more closely with products, though our primary focus has been on the general brand [awareness],” said Lee, who added that the product demonstrations aren’t directly intended to drive customer acquisition but to drive stronger awareness of the product offerings.

The Super Bowl, being a national unifier among everyday Americans, gives the bank an opportunity to get on their radars without having to do a hard sell of its financial products and services. For example, it’s doing a five-day takeover of a nearby restaurant to create the “Possibilities Lounge,” a venue to showcase new banking experiences that customers can explore like the future of payments, with Visa and Diebold Nixdorf. In 2016, U.S. bank launched a marketing and advertising campaign on the “Power of Possible” theme, which highlighted on employees’ passion for helping consumers and business owners achieve their goals and dreams.

Visitors to the Lounge will be able to accumulate points by doing their best touch-down dance; U.S. Bank will make a cash donation to charity based on the points they receive. They’ll also be able to use a “Future of Banking ATM” to unlock a voucher of points which can be transferred to a payment wearable; these points can be redeemed for a gift. Zelle will be there too, in the background, to show customers on the payments interface how money moves between the different parties.

“We want to get people in the space, and help them get exposed to the brand and learn a little bit and get engaged in a fun activity,” Lee said.

U.S. bank spends $20 million annually on its various sponsorships, according to an estimate from consulting firm ESP Properties, the eighth largest among major U.S. banks; Bank of America, Citi and Chase spend the most. Brand awareness is top of mind when it comes to sponsorships but driving consumer interest in products is equally important, said Jim Andrews, svp of ESP Properties.

“I would never say that any sponsor should look at sponsorship as purely an awareness play,” he said. “You’ll want to talk to [the customer] and activate with [product] promotions. That’s where you can really bring them to life and make them relevant to the people you’re trying to reach.”

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