SBD/March 13, 2012/Marketing and Sponsorship

Northwestern Mutual To Serve As Presenting Sponsor Of Tonight's "First Four" NCAA Games



Northwestern Mutual is rolling out its largest marketing campaign during March Madness
Northwestern Mutual Dir of Brand & Advertising Chad Dern, whose company is the NCAA's newest corporate partner, says that during this year's men's basketball tournament the company will roll out its "largest marketing and advertising initiative" yet. The financial service provider's 20-story home office in Milwaukee tonight will be lit to spell out "NCAA," and when the NCAA tournament’s “First Four” games begin on truTV tonight, they will be presented by Northwestern. That is quite a change in approach for what used to be known as “the quiet company.” Dern: “It’s really exciting around the office today. It’s a milestone for us, and at a company that’s 155 years old, you don’t have many chances to make history.” Around Northwestern’s offices, where 5,000 employees are based, posters of CEO John Schlifske spinning a basketball on his finger decorate the halls. Hats with the Northwestern and NCAA marks are being sold inside the offices as a fundraiser for one of the company’s charitable partners. A video from CBS analyst Seth Davis runs on the inter-office TVs. “It’s all about trying to capture the moment,” said Dern, a former marketing exec at MillerCoors who joined Northwestern last year. “We want this to be more than a media buy. We want it to be something that transforms the way we go to market and do business.” With the presenting sponsorship for the “First Four,” Northwestern will debut two new 60-second spots that emphasize the company’s financial planning and strategies. The ads were created by Northwestern’s agency, Minneapolis-based Olson, which also assisted with the media portion of the negotiations with NCAA rights holders Turner and CBS. Northwestern has units spread throughout the tournament, as well as a buy on ESPN for its coverage of other NCAA championships. Inside the NCAA tournament broadcasts on CBS and Turner networks, Northwestern-branded segments called “Planning for Success” will feature analysts talking game strategy. In addition to the TV placement, those 60-second ads will run online at, and also will be the home for Northwestern’s bracket challenge. Twitter and Facebook will be used to promote the brackets, with winners collecting trips to next year’s Final Four. That also will be a tool for Northwestern reps to connect with clients and life insurance policyholders, Dern said. Print ads will appear in SI throughout March Madness and a three-page advertising section appeared in the Wall Street Journal yesterday.

TAKING OVER FOR THE HARTFORD: Northwestern’s sponsorship covers categories -- including life insurance, wealth management, retirement and financial planning -- that formerly were held by The Hartford before it elected not to renew last year. With the recent additions of Northwestern and Allstate, the NCAA’s corporate partner program now numbers 11, in addition to the three corporate champions. Dern said Northwestern was pleased with its ad buys in the NCAA tournament last year and began discussions with Turner and CBS late last year on a corporate partnership. The deal was signed on Christmas Eve and announced in January. “We were really looking to build our brand awareness, especially with our financial services, and differentiate ourselves in what’s a very cluttered space,” Dern said. “The tournament is usually chock full of financial services advertising that looks for those college graduates and the affluent audience.” Life insurance has long been considered Northwestern’s primary product, but financial planning will be central to its messaging in the tournament. Northwestern is taking a wait-and-see approach to activating on the ground at the Final Four, where many NCAA partners sponsor space in the Bracket Town or the Tailgate Tipoff fan fests. “We’re going to go to New Orleans and try to learn more about what happens at the Final Four and what our opportunities might be,” Dern said. Northwestern has not hired a sports marketing agency, preferring to handle the sponsorship in-house for now, although the company has not ruled it out.
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