SBJ/November 22 - 28, 2004/SBJ In Depth

Sponsorship report card: Experts grade the financial services/banking category

Peter Stern
President, Strategic Sports Group

Sponsorship involvement in the financial services category is a roller-coaster ride. The best work has been on the local level, where “home teams” have been used as a metaphor to bring to life important category attributes like trust, reliability and community involvement.

For example, Bank of America, which recently acquired Fleet Bank, drove home its “new” identity in Boston. Bank of America, a relatively new player to Red Sox Nation, was opportunistic in connecting emotionally with fans by becoming title sponsor of the long-awaited victory parade in Boston. The partnership created a lasting memory with loyal BoSox fans that strategically aligned with BofA’s “higher standards” positioning, and strengthened community roots.

Some of the best work in the financial service category is still done behind the scenes with experiential hospitality that enables key customers to go “inside the lines.” Companies like Invesco, Charles Schwab, TD Waterhouse and JP-Morgan Chase provide customers with unique experiences, not just watercooler conversations. Because business in this category is often driven by key relationships, unique experiences always resonate well.

Grade: B+

John Rowady
President, rEvolution

The financial services category is more competitive than ever. Look out banks; insurance and mortgage brands want your turf. There’s a race to build brand awareness and capture sales leads. Three rules we use to ensure clients success in sports sponsorship apply here: integration, a global platform that activates locally, and an experiential environment.

Bank of America, John Hancock, State Farm and Allstate continue to hedge their sponsorship strategies with heavy media spending. Moving impressions, yes. But most true promotional activation is limited.

This category is about sales. Mortgage companies, lately the most aggressive and sales-driven businesses in the category, have found sports sponsorships to be a catalyst to drive leads and sales. The market has seen the emergence of Argent (a former client), which integrates across five sports, and Ameriquest’s recent MLB and NFL sponsorships.

Banks are best positioned to activate locally across multiple service offerings. Insurance is second. Bank of America recently provided credence to our approach by countering with a fully integrated baseball deal. ING has shown how to own a sport globally (marathons) with relevance locally.

Grade: C

Howard Jacobs
President, Millsport

Financial services is a large, active and growing sponsorship category. In many ways, financial brands are the emerging leaders in property spending and optimization, not surprising given the importance of financial management among consumers and the dynamic market opportunity.

Like the consumer product brands that have long dominated sports sponsorship, financial services marketers are now smartly exploiting sponsorship for that elusive “differentiated advantage,” enabling them to break through clutter, forge sustainable relationships and own the “navigational role” as trusted adviser for today’s consumer.

Multiple global, national, regional and local financial services brands have embraced sponsorship as an important part of their overall marketing mix. From countless stadium-naming deals (Lincoln Financial Field, Wachovia Center) to the USOC (Bank of America), NASCAR (SunTrust), MLB (Ameriquest, John Hancock, BofA), U.S. Open Tennis (JPMorgan Chase), PGA (Schwab) and NYC and other global marathons (ING), category activity is robust and largely well-activated.

Select brands spring top of mind for their more integrated, brand-centric approach. This list includes Wachovia, John Hancock and particularly BofA, each having found the strategic terra firma and tactical formula to reinforce brand values, emotionally engage their audiences, and impact business.

Grade: B+

Harlan Stone
Principal, Velocity Sports & Entertainment*

The David vs. Goliath financial services wars continue along with the wave of consolidation wherein Davids become Goliaths. This war is often waged upon the sports sponsorship battlefield.

This has meant strong category support for sponsorships, as it allows the consolidator to link its “new” brand with an established community brand; it allows differentiation in a business where everyone claims to be friendly, technologically advanced, and the best place for your “relationship.”

A few category leaders come to mind. Bank of America has done an excellent job, not only in the scope of its portfolio (Olympics, PGA Tour, MLB and teams) but in its execution. In particular, we like the top-to-bottom platform for baseball, from MLB to Little League. BofA’s recent sponsorship of Democracy Plaza was innovative.

Among the “megas,” we also admire JPMorgan Chase’s long-standing Corporate Challenge. It’s a model for proprietary events: cost effective, sponsor-controlled and impactful to a defined audience.

Grade: A-

* Velocity clients include Citizens Bank.

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