Grading the 2016 Super Bowl Financial Services Commercials

Spoiler alert: All four of the financial services-related commercials shown during the 2016 Super Bowl get failing grades.

That said, I’m not alone in my opinion. In USA Today’s Ad Meter rankings of the 63 commercials, the four financial services entries came in at 48, 51, 53, and 59.

From a general consumer perspective, my guess is that these ads sucked because they weren’t entertaining, emotion-evoking, or even informative. Let’s take a closer look at each of the ads.

PayPal: “There’s a New Money in Town”

Grade: D

According to this ad, old money “closes at 5,” new money “is all people.” and that PayPal is “new money.” “All” people, according to PayPal, are young people of all races and genders. Ironically, according to AdMeter, this commercial scored highest consumers over the age of 65. In fact, as the age range declines, so does the score.

Younger consumers don’t need to be convinced that old money is for old people, and that mobile transactions are cool. Older consumers do. PayPal, however, has been around for ~15 years. Young consumers likely don’t see PayPal as “new money.” This ad doesn’t nothing to abuse them of this opinion.

Fun Fact: On a state-by-state basis, the PayPal ad scored highest among Rhode Island viewers. PayPal must be thrilled.

Quicken Loans: “What Were We Thinking”

Grade: D

Quicken Loans featured its new Rocket Mortgage, which “turns an intimidating process into an easy one.”The commercial even had the nerve to imply that making the mortgage application process easier would somehow boost the economy. Geez, why didn’t they tell that to Obama seven years ago? Could’ve saved us a lot of trouble!

The problem here–from an advertising perspective–is one that plagues most mortgage providers: Getting a mortgage is just one part of a long, complicated, and often stress-inducing process called “shopping for a new home.” I bet if USAA had advertised its Home Circle mobile app — which supports the entire home shopping process from house hunting through mortgage and home insurance — it would have scored significantly higher than the Quicken Loans ad.

There’s no doubt that the mortgage application process sucks at many banks, but advertising must address one of the two basic concerns prospective applicants have: 1) am I going to get approved? or 2) am I getting the best rate (and fees)?

Fun Fact: Once again, this ad scored highest among consumers over 65 (maybe they just like commercials better than younger consumers? oh wait, maybe they were more sober). Consumers under the age of 21, however, scored this ad higher than consumers in the 21-34 and 35-49 age ranges. Sadly (for Quicken), the lowest scores came from the segment (35 to 49 year old) most likely to be home buyers.

SunTrust: “Hold Your Breath”

Grade: D-

SunTrust exhorted viewers to hold their breaths, then told them that what they were feeling was akin to financial stress. The bank then claimed it would “help lead the way” to improving the nation’s financial confidence. How is the bank going to do this? Needless to say, there was no mention of that.

Was there nobody at the bank’s ad agency with access to consumer data that shows that many people believe that banks are the cause of financial stress and lack of confidence? It’s 2016. Consumers aren’t buying these empty promises that banks are going to somehow help people relieve their financial stress and/or achieve their financial dreams.

Fun Fact: SunTrust’s ad scored highest in Delaware and Maine. I don’t think SunTrust’s footprint includes Maine, does it?

SoFi: “Great Loans for Great People”

Grade: F– (double minus)

I can’t even begin to tell you how much I hated this ad. Apparently, a lot of other people did, too, as it ranked 59 out of 63 ads. And that’s not good for a startup that brags about disrupting banking.

The commercial takes place in some unnamed city, and as the camera pans in on people walking down the street (or picking up their coffee at a faux Starbucks), the voice over says whether the particular person is “great” or “not great.” Great people get loans at SoFi, and, apparently “not great” people don’t.

Sucks if you’re not a great person, eh? How would you know if you’re great or not? Beats me.

Ben Brown of First Annapolis tweeted right after the ad was shown:

Bingo. I tweeted back: “Agreed. Lousy commercial. Think anybody’s gonna remember SoFi tomorrow? No.”

SoFi actually replied to that tweet with this response:


Nice that they heard me.

Couple of weeks ago, someone tweeted a picture of a direct mail they received from SoFi. And now this failed Super Bowl ad. The faux disruptor secured $1 billion in Series E funding from SoftBank last September. Apparently, the money is going to direct mail and Super Bowl advertising. Who would’ve thought that traditional advertising was the way to disrupt a market?


What did you think of the ads? Where am I going wrong in my take?

Ron ShevlinRon Shevlin is Director of Research at Cornerstone Advisors. Check out more of his ideas and research on Cornerstone's Insight Vault. And don't forget to follow him on Twitter at @rshevlin.

This article was originally published on February 8, 2016. All content © 2018 by The Financial Brand and may not be reproduced by any means without permission.


  1. Agreed, Ron. What a sorry lot of ads. No wonder so many companies and executives see marketing as an expense instead of an investment. That SoFi ad was particularly appalling. “Disruption” means passing judgement on people in public? I’ll take ol’ fashioned lenders, then.

  2. Freddy: What a great comment from a great person! (yes, pun intended)

    Seriously, though, you’re nailing something I failed to mention: The “passing of judgement.”

    That was bothersome. Who the hell is SoFi to say who is “great” and who is “not”?

    Granted, I usually have a thing about hating smarmy little startups that talk a big game and don’t do diddly squat. I wonder what the general public thinks of this company.

  3. I am reading a lot into this but I think what SoFi was trying to convey (and failed miserably at along the way) is that those who were not great were not great because of financial problems. Regardless… all ads of these ads fail and am wrapping up an article to provide another way banks and credit unions can spend their $5 million to have a positive impact on the bottom line.

  4. Ron, thanks for the round up.

    PayPal Ad
    The demographics you site are interesting, wonder what the company will make of it. If the company was trying to educate consumers about the company, I believe they would have been better served showing how merchants and consumers can transact business 24/7 around the globe, without exchanging any hard currency. If the company was trying to show consumers how the company differs from the other payment companies on the market, it doesn’t. Based on the commercial, I have no idea why PayPal is any better or different than the rest.

    Quicken Loan Ad
    The premise of this commercial is ridiculous, and the fall out in the press attests to this. What I find intriguing is that when the company makes you think that at the press of a button you will get a loan, they don’t really tell you that there’s a nine-step process involved (i.e., a lot of button pushing), and that’s after you create an online account. Just like with SoFi and SunTrust, nothing has changed. The loan application process is just that a process, and none of these companies really change the game. All they do is make it look like more fun.

    SunTrust Ad
    Sure, holding one’s breath for a prolonged period of time can be stress inducing, but you want to know what gives a great many people the most amount of financial stress…not having a steady, meaningful and or rewarding job that pays a decent living wage. How does the bank plan to help a consumer, or America, with that one? Regardless, if you happen to miss the URL mention at the end of the ad, but you remember the SunTrust name, and you intuitively go to, there is no mention of the onup campaign. Why? There is no integration with the Super Bowl ad. How’s that for great marketing? In fact, beside the site, I found two other sites…one of which reverts to the other, and it’s all a bit confusing.

    When you start to look through the site, you see that the bank is trying to make use of social media in a way to promote itself and to get others involved but, at the end of the day, the bank is promoting the same old banking products and or investment/savings advice. Also, I wonder if the bank’s use of the word “movement” in the marketing of “onup” really strikes a cord with any consumer. To me, a movement is a lot more than slick advertising (if you want to call this slick).

    SoFi Ad
    If you look at SoFi’s (Social Finance) website, you see what they are trying to do, and what they mean by “Great” and “Not Great.” Sure they are the lender and they can pass judgement, as most lenders are entitled to do but, does the commercial really get the point across that the company wants to look at lending differently? As of last month, the company did away with using a borrower’s FICO score, because research and data has shown that this score does not matter in the long term. Everything else that the company screens a loan applicant for (which seems to be what any lender would screen for, so where’s the great disruption) seems to be enough to base a lending decision on. So, why not base a commercial on this feature or disruptive line of thought?

    If you ask any CMO from the companies that showed a commercial last night, or during any Super Bowl for that matter, what the objective was of their ad, I would be hard pressed to say no one could provide any definitive response and quantify it. I know what it means to garner press mentions and Tweets and Likes, but by next week this is all gone and then what…the company spent millions on what, for what? And the kicker in all of this is, someone at the brand is signing off on all of this.

    I’ll leave it there. Thanks as always.

  5. @Roger… we are monitoring the onUp process and digital journey. SunTrust did link to the microsite finally from their home page but the call to action is weak.

    Instead of this approach after spending $5 million to place the ad, I would have advised SunTrust to offer a free downloadable guide in exchange for an email address so that I could at least begin to nurture and track these inbound lead’s digital behaviors. I would also place ad tracking pixels on every single visitor so that I can begin to retarget them depending upon the action they have taken on the onUp site.

    For example, have they downloaded the Ebook? Did they take the quiz? Have they “joined the movement?” SunTrust could have gained another simple quick win by following up the “join the movement” form and ask one simple open ended question: “How can we help you move onUp in your life?”

    The key point: use digital behavior to progressively profile prospects and lead.

    As modern financial marketers, we must be held to higher standards to prove the impact our marketing has as we learn what works and what does not.

    This article might help provide others with some perspective as to what the best financial services Super Bowl commercial ever is:

  6. Ron, I agree with you and everyone above who commented. My public comment regarding SunTrust can be found in this tweet:

  7. As I read through everyone’s remarks, I’m mindful that every industry (including ours) has its own version of a “Beltway Bubble.” While there are some insightful analysis offered here, I’m not sure the rank and file Super Bowl audience (especially those not actively tweeting) would find the ads as ineffective or objectionable.

    Don’t get me wrong, I agree with many of the comments above. Then again, I’m not an individual whose loan application was denied by my local bank or a 35 year old whose last mortgage application experience was tedious and cumbersome. Did these advertisers get it all right? Definitely not! Did they get it all wrong? Definitely not!

    Personally, I think SoFi would have been better off airing their “Bankless World” ad:, but I guarantee that a lot more people know about SoFi today than they did on February 6. And SunTrust may have ranked low among the entertainment-heavy ads, but USA Today also ranked the SunTrust ad among the top 5 Super Bowl 50 commercials with a message.

    Ultimately, I hope Ron’s brilliant column and all the subsequent comments prompts bank and CU marketers to remember the first rule of advertising: It’s about them. Not you!

  8. sallie Mae says:

    SoFi advertises no FICO but I just got declined because my FICO was too low. Does the anyone care about truth in advertising?

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