How Did Financial Service Brand Ads Fare at the Super Bowl?

The “Big Game” is over and the ad meters are weighing in on how various advertisers fared with their 30 or 60 seconds of glory. Not wanting to miss out on the fun, we paid close attention to the few financial service ads that aired last night.

Super Bowl ads can be both rewarding and risky. They are judged instantly, and the memorable ones are enshrined in the “all-time” lists, both the best and worst. On those lists you don’t see a lot of financial service ads, which are less common than spots for beer, cars, chips and soda. There have been some good ones, like the Amex spot with Dana Carvey and Jon Lovitz, or the MasterCard spot with Homer Simpson and, of course, the much derided E*Trade baby. These are all fun for sure, but they’re not Wassup! or 1984.

And maybe they don’t have to be. Super Bowl ads tend to be epic (Imported From Detroit) or wacky (the CareerBuilder monkeys). These days, consumers may not want their financial companies to be either. Epic can be an overpromise, and wacky can come across as flip. For an industry still taking heat for the Great Recession, finding the balance of “play it safe” while still being memorable is key. So how did financial service advertisers do this year?

Bank of America
Taking the “feel good” approach, Bank of America partnered with U2 and (RED) for its ad.

The idea behind this spot was great: get a well known and universally loved band that is active in social welfare, premier its new song during the Super Bowl, make it free on iTunes for 24 hours and donate $1 for every download to a good cause. Using valuable (and expensive) airtime to help fight AIDS in Africa is noble, and U2 brings celebrity credibility to the effort (plus we love an ad with a call to action). Bank of America itself is only mentioned briefly at the end of the spot, a choice that lead to a split decision here at Media Logic. Some of us loved how the bank was understated (not making it all about them). But the counter point is that the viewer could have missed the bank altogether and seen this as a U2 ad in support of (RED).

The owner of QuickBooks used social media and user-generated content for its Small Business Big Game campaign. Over several months, Intuit asked small business owners to tell stories of their start-ups and get friends to vote for them. Then four finalists squared off and the winner, GoldieBlox, was featured in last night’s ad.

Giving small businesses a national platform shows that Intuit is looking out for the little guy. Plus we love seeing financial brands using social promotions. But Intuit could also have given itself more credit for making that spot happen. Like Bank of America, without the back story, I would not have known about the broader social promotion or even that Intuit got the spot on the air. And since we’ve already seen a similar ad from GoldiBox, also featuring a parody of an 80s song about “girls,” the viewer might have just assumed GoldiBlox bought the time, not Intuit.

Also owned by Intuit, the tax prep website has been running a well-timed campaign called “The Year of You” which elevates the annual chore of taxes into a ritual of taking stock on the past year. Last night they ran a Super Bowl take on that campaign.

The idea behind the overall campaign is great: since taxes are no fun, make doing taxes a personal recap on the accomplishments of the last year. After all, they are your taxes. The spot that ran last night connects to that campaign and manages to make a joke about the game, but if you hadn’t seen the original spot, you may not get it. Intuit had a great 90-second ad that it could have recut to a 60-second spot. In my humble opinion, that would have been a better choice.

Honorable mention goes to Esurance who bought the first ad after the Super Bowl:

What’s not to like? Esurance gets a funny celebrity spokesperson (John Krasinski), uses the gimmick of buying a post-game ad, highlights how much it saved with that gimmick and then deploys a social promotion to give that money away. Last night over half the ads had hashtags, but #esurancesave30 may have been the only one that actually gave viewers a reason to use it. Bonus: the winner will be announced on Jimmy Kimmel Live this Wednesday, giving the campaign legs. [Slow clap.]

Overall, our evaluation of Super Bowl ads gives financial service advertisers mixed reviews. None of the spots was an epic fail, however, and that is no small feat these days. And while none of them are on top of the “best of” lists today, either, all of them were solid efforts by the brands.

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