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SunTrust doing its first Super Bowl ad ever

By RODNEY HO/ rho@ajc.com, originally filed Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Atlanta-based SunTrust Banks is going to air its first Super Bowl ad ever on Feb. 7.

The company said it's using its three-year-old system-wide purpose-driven strategy "Lighting the Way to Financial Well Being" to help Americans talk more openly about money and take steps toward what it terms "financial confidence."

The Super Bowl is by far the biggest single audience any advertiser can reach in a given year, with well over 100 million viewers at any given moment. And this doesn't include all the ancillary free press coverage surrounding the ads themselves. As a result, CBS is asking a lot from its advertisers. Super Bowl ads, which usually last 30 seconds, are going for up to $5 million this year, up 11 percent from last year, according to Fortune magazine.

I covered banking for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 1994-95 as a business reporter and recall SunTrust as a stolid, safe, don't-rock-the-boat institution. Two decades later, the company appears to have maintained that reputation. So just seeking a Super Bowl spotlight is a bold move for them.

Indeed, this is the company's first national TV ad buy.

SunTrust is known as a regional consumer retail banking operation, focused in the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic states. But some of its divisions such as mortgages, financial planning and private wealth management are national.

"This is not typical brand advertising," said Sue Mallino, chief communications officer, in an interview. "We're not promoting products per se. This is about addressing a national concern."

SunTrust is not revealing details of the ad, but this does not sound like a comedic effort featuring the likes of Jenny McCarthy or Jerry Seinfeld. That would be out of character. Mallino said the ad will be "optimistic in nature. The Super Bowl is a very good platform to get our message across."

The ad will air in the fourth quarter at the two-minute mark. So SunTrust execs will surely be hoping for a close game whoever is playing.

“We believe that financial stress is a significant social concern, one that merits national attention,” said SunTrust Chairman and CEO William H. Rogers, Jr in a press release. “We’re investing in this ad because the Super Bowl is a unique and proven forum to launch a national conversation. We want to be the spark that motivates people to take action, and give them tools and access to information to move closer to financial confidence.”

"We've conducted research," said Corinne Cuthbertson, a brand, advertising and digital marketing executive, for SunTrust Bank, in an interview. "There is really a correlation between financial confidence and life satisfaction across all income levels. The economy is recovering. Millennials have a renewed confidence."

“Our Super Bowl ad is a shift from business-as-usual. It’s about raising awareness that financial stress is a serious issue and it’s time to do something about it,” said SunTrust Chief Marketing Officer Susan Somersille Johnson. “Just like physical fitness, people need inspiration and support to tackle what’s holding them back from pursuing a life well-spent. Let’s start the conversation.”

Here's a recent regional ad by SunTrust:

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About the Author

Rodney Ho covers radio and television for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

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