Bank Super Bowl Ads Show Stigma of Crisis Has Faded

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Banks are feeling more comfortable than they have in nearly a decade about promoting themselves during the year's biggest and most expensive television broadcast.

This year's crop of advertisers during Sunday's Super Bowl 50 includes four banking-related companies, which is at least double the number that ran national ads during the game in any year over the past decade.

Few banks ran Super Bowl ads during and shortly after the financial crisis, wary of regulatory or consumer backlash. With the economy recovering in fits and starts, the stigma has dissipated.

"If you were known to be taking Tarp money, you shouldn't be spending it on advertising," said Pat LaPointe, chief growth officer at Growth Calculus, a management consulting firm in Bozeman, Mont.

It's still a toss-up whether consumers will be receptive to ads from banks and financial companies. Their results on Sunday will depend on whether times have changed enough that consumers feel better about their financial prospects.

"People are feeling a little more optimistic about the economy," said Peter Daboll, chief executive of Ace Metrix, a market research company in El Segundo, Calif. "But you're still not seeing JPMorgan advertise."

Banks' advertising message to consumers this year varies, from pitching new products to promoting financial confidence. But they all share the same goal: reach as many eyeballs as possible in the shortest amount of time.

To that end, banks want the matchup between the Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers to be as close as possible, preferably with the outcome not decided until the final seconds. Many companies covet airtime in the first half. Others, like SunTrust Banks in Atlanta, have taken a chance by choosing a spot in the fourth quarter.

"We're hoping for a very tight game," said Brad Dinsmore, corporate banking executive at the $191 billion-asset SunTrust, which this year bought its first nationally televised Super Bowl ad.

The exorbitant price of a Super Bowl ad makes it like playing a game of craps—you're betting most of your chips on one roll of the dice.

CBS, which is broadcasting year's game, charged national advertisers an average of $5 million for 30 seconds of airtime, an 11% increase from last year; the cost is equal to $166,000 per second of the ad. The $5 million does not include the cost of making the ad.

That's a huge portion of some banks' yearly budget for marketing. A $5 million Super Bowl commercial is about 3.3% of SunTrust's $151 million marketing budget for 2015, based on its fourth-quarter earnings report.

But a Super Bowl commercial is a more-efficient use of funds than other forms of advertising, said Brian Jensen, senior vice president of marketing at the $15 billion-asset FirstBank in Lakewood, Colo.

"When you buy a spot during a TV show, it's going to cost less for that one show but you're going to reach a much smaller audience," Jensen said. "You're going to get a much more effective media buy [during the Super Bowl]."

FirstBank is entering its fourth-straight year of running regional ads during the Super Bowl. This should be an especially effective year for FirstBank, since the Broncos are in the Super Bowl; FirstBank has the second-highest deposit market share in metro Denver, as of June 30, according to FDIC data. FirstBank held $9.5 billion of deposits, trailing only Wells Fargo.

FirstBank's ad will only air in Colorado and Arizona. Since it's a regional ad, it costs far less than a national ad buy, Jensen said. The price of a regional ad in last year's game ranged from $1 million to $3 million, compared to $4.5 million for a national ad, according to Ad Week.

"Most consumers don't know that you're not running an ad nationally," Jensen said. "We're still viewed as this local bank and this puts us on a level playing field with some of our biggest competitors."

In addition to FirstBank, the $27 billion-asset Associated Banc-Corp in Green Bay, Wis., will air a regional commercial, which will run in Milwaukee and six of its other markets.

SunTrust's 30-second ad centers on the concept of financial breathing room, featuring shots of people doing real-life activities. The goal is to spark a conversation about financial confidence, according to the bank.

Nonbank lenders will also air commercials. Quicken Loans will market its new online personal-loan product, called RocketLoans. PayPal Holdings will run its first Super Bowl ad, touting its "vision for the future of money." Guaranteed Rate, a nonbank mortgage lender in Chicago, will air a spot about its online product to search for mortgage rates. Social Finance, a marketplace lender in San Francisco, will broadcast a commercial featuring real customers.

"It's a large investment, we realize that, but now is the right time for SoFi to be increasing consumer awareness on a larger scale," said Dan Macklin, co-founder of SoFi.

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