Behind Synovus’s Winning Video

By Kate Young

In advertising, there’s no grander stage than the Super Bowl. Renowned for their ability to surprise and delight, Super Bowl commercials don’t just capture the millions tuned in for the big game. They also attract viewers who don’t even care about football—but are more interested in the pop-culture entertainment value of the ads. When you’re working at that level, you know you’ve hit the big time.

Even if you’re a smaller advertiser buying local airtime during the game, your content had better be top-notch. Otherwise, the contrast with the national ads is glaring—and does not reflect well on you.

So how does a bank with a regional footprint create a commercial that can hold its own among the titans of the ad world?

That’s what we wanted to find out from Synovus Bank, winner of the Best in Show prize for the 2017 ABA Bank Marketing Video Awards. This $30 billion bank based in Columbus, Georgia wove a tight 30-second narrative around a rancher, his horse, and the bank that makes it all possible.

And to get your attention, they framed it as an amiable spoof on some of the classic motifs of Super Bowl advertising.

But wait, there’s more.

Notice the deadpan delivery of the actor who plays the part of the rancher? If that strikes you as remarkably authentic, it’s because he’s not an actor. The rancher is not a character, and the ranch is not a set. Even the horse is—as advertised—just a horse.

That’s because when the Atlanta-based agency Fitzgerald & Co. pitched the Clydesdale theme for a Super Bowl ad, the idea involved tapping real Synovus customers for talent and location.

“We fell in love with the concept,” said Christi Pennington, senior manager of Marketing Operations at Synovus Bank. “It is near and dear to Synovus’s heart to be hyper local and represent the communities we serve. This was an opportunity to have our customers star in the extension and interpretation of our brand.”

But Pennington was skeptical that they’d be able to pull it off. She thought, “There’s no way we’re going to find a Clydesdale farm in our footprint, never mind one that’s a customer.”

But just one week before the scheduled shoot, the scouts—and the local bankers they worked with—came through.

Making a Super Bowl splash.

Pennington reports that she had no trouble getting management on board with the concept for the commercial. “The challenge,” she said, “was more about hoping to gain approval on going all in on a Super Bowl ad.”

But the time was right to go after maximum brand awareness across Synovus’s five-state footprint. The bank is working toward a 2018 brand conversion that will ultimately unify its 257 branches—currently under 28 different locally-branded divisions—into a single Synovus brand.

“We saw that we had an opportunity to be capitalize on the Super Bowl through targeted local buying efforts,” Pennington said. “Being a regional company, the challenge we face is to make sure our marketing dollars are working hard and aren’t being wasted.” So they bought air time only in the local markets.

“People watching the commercial during the Super Bowl can’t tell if it’s a local buy or a national buy because the production quality is high,” she noted. “What we were trying to accomplish was to make the biggest splash we could possibly make at this one point in time.”

Turning a TV ad into an engagement machine.

Commercial shoots typically involve dealing with seasoned actors who show up, do their part—with minimal interaction with the client—and then leave.

But when you offer your customers the opportunity to participate in a commercial, something totally different happens. You’re offering them a once-in-a-lifetime experience. “The whole day was absolutely amazing,” Pennington said. A group of Synovus bankers invited customers to come for the day and enjoy the experience of being on a TV shoot. The bank set up a “video village”—essentially a hospitality tent where bank customers could gather, enjoy the catered meals, and learn from the pros what was happening at each stage of the shoot. They even went home with swag.

And the rancher who starred in the ad? “He was so invested in the entire process,” Pennington said. His own Synovus banker also attended the event, and “they were cutting up and texting during the shoot. We were sitting back and saying, that’s what it’s really all about. They’re having so much fun.”

Leading up to the premiere…

To generate buzz for the commercial, Synovus posted pre-commercial teaser footage on YouTube, leveraged by paid and organic social posts.

Then on the Friday before the Super Bowl, every branch across the five-state footprint threw a Super Bowl party. “We sent out red Synovus team football jerseys and shipped out coolers and table cloths,” Pennington explained. “And we charged the retail front line to have fun with customers.”

That included airing a sneak peek of the upcoming Super Bowl commercial at the branches that day. Corporate Communications set up a Super Bowl page on the Synovus intranet, where they posted the pictures that came in all day from the parties across the branches. “The creativity that took place in the branches was very impressive,” Pennington said. “We gave the branches the freedom to interpret the Super Bowl party as they saw fit.”

And then there was the B-roll.

A second camera captured the behind-the-scenes fun that took place among the customers, cast and crew. Combined with b-roll footage from another customer-acted commercial, these bonus videos provided additional social content to showcase Synovus’s relationship with its customers.

And the Clydesdale rancher? “He enjoyed the experience so much,” Pennington told us, “that when we shot another customer-acted commercial, he brought his family to that shoot, just to watch.”

How’s a bank to follow up on that?

Synovus is currently working through plans for what’s next. What lessons did they take away from this project? The value of:

  • Generating excitement and engagement within the bank teams.
  • Fully integrated social engagement throughout the whole campaign.
  • Taking customer relationships to a whole new level.

“We’ll see more of that in the future,” Pennington said.

Kate Young is the content editor of Email: [email protected].