Super moment arrives for U.S. Bank's marketing efforts

Star Tribune |

--No company in the Twin Cities has as much at play in Sunday's Super Bowl as U.S. Bancorp.

The Minneapolis parent of U.S. Bank bought naming rights to the new downtown football stadium in 2015, about a year before it was completed. Its about-to-retire Chairman Richard Davis helped lead the group that attracted the game, then the committee hosting it and has been omnipresent in local media in recent weeks.

And with U.S. Bank likely to be mentioned dozens of times on the Super Bowl broadcast and in thousands of reports and articles about the game, the company built a sophisticated marketing plan anchored in a relationship with main broadcaster NBC and capped by a national commercial just before kickoff.

"We have this incredible opportunity with the naming rights. It's almost priceless for us," said Kate Quinn, the company's chief administrative officer. "We're going to try to capitalize on that as much as we can."

The company also used this Super Bowl as a deadline for several new projects and updates to existing products and services. Its website, apps and the interface at ATMs have all had makeovers completed in recent weeks.

"You clean your house when you have company over, and we kind of did the same thing," Quinn said.

The company is the nation's fifth largest bank -- behind JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Wells Fargo and Citicorp -- and leading about a dozen firms known in the banking industry as "super regionals." For several years, U.S. Bank has been at or near the top of the industry on several key performance measures, including return on assets, return on equity and efficiency ratio, which is the ability to convert a deposit into revenue.

While it does business across the country, it has branches in only 25 states and falls below the recognition level of the four national giants. Quinn said the Super Bowl moment is a chance to create awareness with the half of the country that isn't exposed to the billboard-like presence that its branches provide.

"This is a way to really make sure that all those who don't have our products and services are aware of who we are and what we have to offer. It spans both consumer and business" markets, she said.

U.S. Bank and other super regionals added to their size through acquisitions after coming out of the 2008 recession. But more recently, they have been scaling back branches as consumers shift more of the financial activity online. That takes out a major avenue for exposure and building awareness, which, in turn, puts more pressure on other types of marketing.

U.S. Bank will take months to determine whether the Super Bowl marketing paid off. Quinn said executives are looking for revenue gains and improvements in consideration surveys, which measure whether people are thinking about doing business with the firm.

The company spent $542 million on marketing and business development in 2017, a 25 percent jump over 2016. It does not disclose further details.

Advertising Age estimates U.S. Bank spends about 10 percent of that, around $50 million, on so-called measured media, including TV, radio, newspapers and magazines. The rest goes into digital media, sports marketing, business-to-business advertising and other promotions. Placing its name on the stadium is estimated to cost the company about $11 million annually.

Helped by Minneapolis-based agency Carmichael Lynch, U.S. Bank two years ago revamped its brand marketing message around the aspirational notion that banks make dreams possible for their customers. Under a campaign banner "The Power of Possible," its first TV ads depicted people thinking about buying a dream home and starting a restaurant. Early last year, it created an ad depicting a city-living dog eager for a house in the suburbs.

Carmichael Lynch worked on a new ad for the pre-kickoff position of the Super Bowl broadcast. Quinn said the company deliberately tried to stay away from the in-game ads, which gain more scrutiny. "You really have to compete in terms of the entertainment quality of the spots," she said.

But the company's dog spot made a list of top 10 ads for 2017 by Bank Innovation, a website that tracks financial industry developments and marketing. JJ Hornblass, executive editor of Bank Innovation, said U.S. Bank and the rest of the banking industry over the past four or five years has been forced to keep up with creative marketing that insurers and investment firms have produced.

"She's saying you have to do it really well. That's the standard they have at U.S. Bank, which is great," Hornblass said. He added: "There's a lot of really entertaining advertising going on."

U.S. Bank invests heavily in sports marketing, sponsoring all of the major pro teams in the Twin Cities and holding similar deals with pro teams across sports in many of its major markets. Quinn said those partnerships keep the U.S. Bank brand in front of customers but that the deals don't pay off unless the company puts more into them.

"When we work with the Timberwolves, for example, it's not just our name on the courts. We go out and refurbish basketball courts together," Quinn said. "We also get a great way to entertain clients, partners and prospects and for employees to go with each other to games and build camaraderie."

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