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Volume 23 No. 23
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Quicken Loans CEO Jay Farner explains how they’ve used NFL sponsorship to elevate profile

Jay Farner joined the company in 1996 and has been CEO since 2017.
Photo: getty images
Jay Farner joined the company in 1996 and has been CEO since 2017.
Photo: getty images
Jay Farner joined the company in 1996 and has been CEO since 2017.
Photo: getty images

Retail mortgage lender Quicken Loans has built its brand through sports and guided those efforts with an internal credo of “Never Been Done Before.” It all started with its sponsorship of the Carrier Classic in 2011, the first college basketball game played on a Navy aircraft carrier; the next year the brand sponsored NASCAR driver Ryan Newman for 18 races; in 2014 it unveiled the March Madness “Billion Dollar Bracket”; an esports sponsorship with the 100 Thieves team came along in 2018; and last year the company sponsored the Rocket Mortgage Classic, which marked the PGA Tour’s return to Detroit. 

 

Its latest initiative is the recent NFL sponsorship for its Rocket Mortgage brand that is turning the popular “Squares” game into a nationwide promotion for the first time. Rocket Mortgage is also the first official mortgage sponsor for the NFL.

With help from sports, Quicken Loans displaced Wells Fargo as the country’s largest retail mortgage lender in late 2017, the same year Jay Farner was elevated from CMO to CEO. Since 2007, Quicken’s market share tripled to around 6%. Farner discussed brand-building through sports with SBJ.

You made an early decision to build with sports. Why?

FARNER: The mortgage and banking categories can be challenging to elevate a brand in. With technology, we built a service experience that won awards and truly differentiated us. We needed a broader message to get that point across and sports was head and shoulders the best. It’s got huge reach, and most people have very strong affinities.

Photo: getty images
Photo: getty images
Photo: getty images

Which metrics will you look at to evaluate your NFL sponsorship?

FARNER: Awareness, participation and engagement are critical. If they request mortgage advice from our site, that’s great; that’s a lead. If they go to our site, fill out the squares, watch a Barry Sanders video, all that creates a stronger brand connection.

Surely you and your agency Intersport are getting hit up daily with sponsorship pitches, especially after the NFL deal. What are you looking for in any sponsorship?

FARNER: Trust is an important component. We have to partner with “everybody knows them, everybody trusts them” brands. We’re looking for broad reach and connection, that’s why we ended up with the NFL.

As a two-time Super Bowl advertiser, you had to know the challenges of cutting through the marketing clutter there.

FARNER: That’s why we went to the Squares game, which hasn’t been done. Engagement for that will last through the game. No one else will be talking about squares — that’s how we’ll break through. 

Financial services is such a cluttered category.

FARNER: There’s lots of noise, and outside of us, few national players. A lot of mortgages are done locally, so it’s even more cluttered. Once we started to use sports sponsorships effectively, we saw high brand scores showing we were perceived as disruptive and cutting edge, and higher unaided and aided awareness.

In any financial category, you’ve got to have high trust. So then we looked at [golfer] Rickie Fowler and the PGA. … For the same reason we have [around 30] college sponsorships, and we leverage that with team mascots. People are more connected with their mascots than I would have thought, and by being a part of that conversation, we moved our brand to being a household name.

Rapid Rise

Nov. 11, 2011
The company sponsors the Carrier Classic; North Carolina beats Michigan State on the deck of the USS Carl Vinson.
2013
The brand lands its first NFL sponsorship, with the Detroit Lions.
2014
Brand becomes title sponsor of PGA Tour’s Quicken Loans National.
2016
Rocket Mortgage airs its first Super Bowl commercial, with another two years later. 
2019 
Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland is relaunched as Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse.

We’re now on par with any of the other large financial and insurance brands from an unaided awareness perspective. You’ve got some legacy banking brands that spend a lot and have been around forever, but we’re making up ground. Sports marketing helped get us to the point where we’re the most recognized, and hopefully, the most trusted brand, especially in mortgages, and I think we’ve cracked the top 10 in financial services overall.

Instead of doing traditional things with traditional sponsorship, we wanted to do things that were creative, different and disruptive. We started with the Carrier Classic which was original and also worked because we’re the largest VA lender. Next was NASCAR; as our business grew, B2B was more important and NASCAR sponsors all work together. We also got to sponsor races in Phoenix and Michigan, where we have large offices and many employees. 

You’ve moved from being a challenger brand to being a category leader. How did that change your marketing?

FARNER: Challenger to champion brand is never easy, but we’re now doubling down on sports, even with all we’ve done. We became the official mortgage partner of the NFL — that sends a message that we are a champion. We want people to know we’re the leader, because of the company we keep.

If a colleague asked about building a brand through sports, what would you say?

FARNER: It’s not for everyone. You can’t just dabble, you’ve got to be committed and consistent. Make sure it’s meaningful to your client base and your brand, and then you have to spend the appropriate amount to support. It’s like a flywheel. You can’t jump in and out — it has to keep turning. Your brand will reach a place where sports are the right thing to do and then you have to have a long-term game plan and stay committed.