Banks turn to college athletes for marketing wins

Not just March Madness: Rule changes bring new opportunities to connect to customers and new audiences via multiple sports.

By Craig Colgan

MidWestOne Bank is based in Iowa City, home to the University of Iowa and its vast athletic program. Jenny Olson, the bank’s community engagement officer, spoke alongside two other bankers at the 2022 ABA Bank Marketing Conference about college athletes appearing in bank marketing. These athletes were until recently essentially banned from profiting from their own “‘name, image and likeness”’ while in school, until a college athletics governing body relaxed many of those rules. Olson described for us her bank’s NIL marketing challenges and successes:

What is the history of MidWestOne’s involvement in college athlete NIL marketing?

We were extremely excited about the prospect of working with athletes from schools around our bank locations and immediately got started trying to find a good fit in the fall of 2021. We wanted to establish the bank as a strong supporter of university athletic programming and gain access to new and different audiences through this avenue. Our SVP for corporate communications initiated a conversation with Hawkeye Athletics and really took the lead to this relationship started. Once agreements were signed it was passed along to marketing for planning and execution.

What are some specific examples of some of your campaigns, concepts, TV ads, etc.?

It’s been a bit of a learning process to figure out what works best logistically. These are athletes, not actors, so we’ve adjusted our expectations to fit everyone’s comfort level and to achieve maximum authenticity. We’ve found b-roll footage with voiceovers recorded separately works well for video that we post and they share on their social feeds. For social posts they do, we like to provide some pretty specific direction, but also allow them a little room for creativity. Some do exactly what we asked and others will put their own spin on it.

An example of a social post we asked them to do last year was to post about how mobile banking makes their lives easier when traveling for sports or spring break. They took a photo of their packed suitcases—with a MidWestOne Bank t-shirt at the top of the stack, of course! And then posted the caption we asked.

Our recent video successes have included short Instagram reels promoting Banks Never Ask That/Fraud Awareness Month—I changed the scenarios to include sports/Hawkeyes—and Small Business Saturday/Shop Small to be used through the holiday season. Voiceovers have been working really well and lead to more engaging and dynamic video content vs. trying to have the athletes speak from a script while being recorded.

We’ve also used a consistent hashtag throughout all our social posts featuring the athletes: #BankLikeAChamp. We like this one because it’s generic enough to continue using as we bring on other athletes from across our footprint.

What has been the response from your banks’ communities?

Our communities love seeing Hawkeye athletes on our social media. We’ve received very positive feedback about the videos and the relationships. Our NIL athletes accompanied some of our bankers to Teach Children to Save appearances. The teachers, staff and students and the school we visited loved it. I think the Hawkeye athletes had a great time, too!

The University of Iowa third-ranked women’s basketball team continues its quest for the national championship Friday in the NCAA tournament. Check out examples of MidWestOne’s #BankLikeAChamp campaign with basketball player McKenna Warnoc, football player Cooper DeJean and basketball player Connor McCaffery. With locations across five states, MidWestOne is working with athletes from outside Iowa as well, including University of Minnesota volleyball player Melanie Shaffmaster.


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