SunTrust and the Super Bowl

*Please note that this was originally written the week prior to the Super Bowl and supplemented with the post-assessment comments following the game.

View: SunTrust Super Bowl Ad

Joining the ranks of perennial Super Bowl advertisers Budweiser, Coca-Cola, Snickers, Doritos, and a slew of automobile manufacturers this year will be SunTrust.  According to Ad Age, the financial services company’s “On Up” campaign will leverage Gary Sinese’s narration to help Americans consider SunTrust as the bank that can inspire confidence and help them breathe more easily about their finances.   As a newcomer to the realm of Super Bowl advertising, I’m curious to see if this will be money well spent.

Given the massive viewership the Super Bowl delivers across all demographics and genders, generating national awareness is likely what SunTrust is hoping to achieve.  Known more as a regional player (a quick search on their sit uncovered zero locations within 50 miles of me here in Boston), this could signify SunTrust’s desire to create national interest and appeal.  According to SunTrust’s media partner, their :30 Super Bowl spot will reach over 46% of their core target.  Being able to speak directly with almost half of your prime prospect is a huge opportunity, but here are 3 key reasons why I’m concerned that SunTrust won’t be able to deliver.

Breaking through the advertising clutter

While most consumers don’t enjoy watching ads, many actually tune into the Super Bowl with the specific intent to watch them.  This year, I’ll be one of them (especially since the Pats are already playing golf).  With ads becoming part of the overall entertainment of the game, consumers have high expectations about the quality and entertainment value that the ads deliver.  To break through, and drive engagement and memorability, SunTrust will need to measure up to the competition and come with something worthy of standing next to, for example, a Bud Light ad featuring Amy Schumer and Seth Rogan.  According to Strawberry Frog, the agency who created the spot, SunTrust will deliver “a film that has a galvanizing message to inspire people from this terrible financial stress.”  While definitely a differentiated approach, reminding people of their financial stress during the Super Bowl might not be the best approach, let alone meet the higher advertising expectations of Super Bowl viewers.  The execution will be critical.

Post-game assessment

Unfortunately, SunTrust failed to break through the clutter.  When compared to the likes of Bud Light, Hyundai, Amazon’s star power, Toyota’s entertainingly clever Prius chase, and a #puppymonkeybaby, SunTrust’s ad barely registers.  According to USA Today’s Ad Meter, a real time viewer engagement rating tool, SunTrust’s Hold Your Breath ranked 53rd out of 63 total commercials.  Per Ad Age’s Super Bowl Ad Review, it ranked among the lowest as well, alongside AstraZeneca’s Envy, and OIC-awareness PSA of sorts…that I don’t want to watch again. 

Perhaps if the voiceover tone and/or music had changed when you’re supposed, as the SunTrust says, “feel that relief”, maybe there could have been a little more of a positive takeaway, but with the clock ticking throughout, this ad was decidedly flat and failed to break through.

Risky ad placement and timing

SunTrust’s media planning agency, 22squared, secured their ad placement during the 2 minute warning of the fourth quarter, which in my opinion is a risky place to be.  If it’s a close game, viewers will be glued to their TVs and SunTrust may well reach the purported 46%+ of their target.  However, if the game is a blowout, viewership engagement may have significantly decreased by the end of the game (with the exception of winning team’s fans).  SunTrust will also have to contend with potential advertising viewing fatigue.  After watching for 3+ hours, and taking in a bunch of commercials already, consumers’ engagement in ads will likely have dropped (and alcohol consumption increased), making it even harder for SunTrust to get the undivided attention for which they’re hoping.  I’d be interested to hear how SunTrust was convinced that this was the best placement for their ad, as real-time factors will influence the level of engaged viewership that late in the game.

Post-game assessment:

Super Bowl 50 was close until the end.  However, a relatively boring game might have turned off the more casual viewers.  At least it wasn’t a blowout, and fans likely stayed tuned in during the 2 minute warning break of the fourth quarter.  While they may have gotten the 46%+ of their target’s eyeballs as predicted, the level of engagement and interest for ads at that point likely waned. 

Generating lasting engagement

The buzz that surrounds Super Bowl advertising can last well beyond the initial airing that Sunday evening.  Subsequent ad rankings, social media comments and shares, spawned memes, talk show/late night interviews and parodies, and water cooler conversation extends the life and value of Super Bowl ads.  With SunTrust vying to become part of the national consideration set for banking, they will need this additional boost to help their Super Bowl investment deliver positive value.  Per Ad Age, the spot will be part of an integrated campaign that will run through February, and include a 60-second online version as well.  However, it’s the no-cost extended coverage that they get, or don’t get, that may act as the barometer as to whether their undisclosed investment will ultimately pay out.

Time will tell how SunTrust’s foray into Super Bowl advertising will end up.  And I’ll be watching carefully through the 2-minute warning of the fourth quarter to see how they do, regardless of the score.

Post-game assessment: ranked the top 10 Super Ads based on share of voice, defined as the percentage of social actions and earned views generated by the spot compared to all others, and let’s just say that SunTrust didn’t make the top 10.  I’d be surprised if they made the top 50.  When I asked my colleagues what they thought of the SunTrust commercial, their response, and I’m summarizing here, was “Who?”.  While SunTrust encourages viewers to join the movement at, I seriously wonder 1) how many people were engaged enough to even have the call-to-action register and 2) of those who caught the message, how compelled they were to visit the site. 

I’m sure that SunTrust is carefully tracking engagement and website hits, and given the investment, I hope for their sake that it pays out.  And if nothing else, it at least, in the words of their CMO, “gets the word out”.  The Super Bowl presents a tremendous opportunity to reach a highly engaged audience that actually watches the advertising during the event.  However, choosing this as a venue for a relatively unengaging, arguably depressing (why remind me of my financial stress when I’m having a blast watching the Super Bowl) ad, with what is decidedly not a “galvanizing message to inspire people from this terrible financial stress” may not have been the best choice for SunTrust.  Going beyond the pure reach numbers to understand your audience and their mindset when they will be watching your commercial as well as the competitive set of ads you’re up against may have led to a different decision.  And I’m left wondering what else could have been done with the $5M ad buy, not to mention the production cost that went into the spot. 

As the Panthers are saying, “maybe next year”.

Share this post

Related Posts