Super Bowl ‘Confidence’: Q&A With SunTrust’s Susan Somersille Johnson



More first-time Super Bowl advertisers are stepping forward this year for the Big Game on February 7, and SunTrust Banks is one of the latest—and most intriguing.

The Atlanta-based company is a national financial services brand with three businesses—wholesale banking, consumer banking and private wealth management—as well as its regional branch network in the Southeast US. And in its appearance in Super Bowl 50, SunTrust is taking on a truly national sensibility: financial stress.

“We believe that financial stress is a significant social concern, one that merits national attention,” SunTrust Chairman and CEO William H. Rogers Jr. said in a statement. “We’re investing in this ad because the Super Bowl is a unique and proven platform to launch a national conversation.”


brandchannel talked with Susan Somersille Johnson, SunTrust’s CMO, about the discussion SunTrust wants to start and why it chose Super Bowl 50 to do so:

bc: Why did you decide to do your first-ever national Super Bowl ad?

SunTrust Susan Somersille Johnson

Susan Somersille Johnson: We’re a purpose-driven company. Three years ago we came to our purpose: lighting the way to financial well-being. And the Super Bowl is the best way to get the word out. It’s a national issue that merits national attention.

And as far as doing it this year, we see a window of opportunity that we don’t know will come again. Three things aligned to make this perfect timing.

First is the economy. On the positive side, it’s continuing to improve and the Fed’s move on interest rates last month is a good sign. People are more optimistic, so it’s a good time for this message.

Second, this is where we are in our evolution as a purpose-driven company. We’ve been preparing for this for a long time, helping people to go from financial stress to financial confidence, and we’ve literally talked to more than 190,000 people and 8,000 businesses in our research over three years.

Third, we like the timing of being in Super Bowl 50.


bc: Are you approaching “financial stress” from the point of view of macroeconomic issues such as underemployment and wage stagnation, or as more of a message about financial literacy for any household?

Johnson: What everybody is thinking is about the macroeconomics. But we have done so much research that we know small things can make a difference: changes in financial habits and just learning the language of money. In a nutshell, our goal is to inspire millions of people to take action and to take a step toward financial confidence.


bc: Can you tell me anything about the creative for the ad?

Johnson: We aren’t sharing that, other than to say that it was filmed in different parts of the country, because the issue is so relevant to so many people that they’ll see themselves in it.

bc: Super Bowl advertisers take various approaches to how much of their ad they reveal before the game, for example, and how to approach the ramp-up and ramp-down with social media. What’s your strategy?

Johnson: We’ve got to get that mix right, for sure. For now, we’re just revealing still shots from the ad, which is still being edited. And prior to the actual airing, we’ll have a teaser.

We’ll also use the full arsenal of marketing channels, including digital and social. We’re doing a lot about awareness and taking action, so we’re going to be really interactive, and our interactive digital capability will start before the Super Bowl and continue long after. We also have been building financial content assets and will make them accessible to people in an easier manner culminating with the Super Bowl.


bc: It’s interesting that you’ve called this an issue ad and taken that approach, given the inherent risks. Do you remember the Nationwide Insurance ad last year that was told from the point of view of a “dead” little boy who was killed by a preventable accident in the home? The brand was excoriated but all it had wanted to do was start a conversation.

Johnson: Some ads are funny, some have shock value. But if I were to categorize our ad, I would say it’s optimistic. It has a tone of optimism. We mention that this is an issue impacting most Americans but also that there are simple steps to take that can help you, because once you reach a level of financial confidence, a whole new world opens up to you and you can enjoy your life again. And you can reach that financial confidence at any income level. These people are three times more likely to be happy with their lives.

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