The U.S. may not be playing in the football World Cup this year, but SoFi certainly is.
SoFi is running ads on Fox Sports and paid social media placements on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. The campaign is a tool to promote SoFi's product offerings to prospective customers, but it's also a way to recast the SoFi brand story from a student-loan company to a full-service financial platform that replaces the bank. SoFi has done ad buys for the Super Bowl and the Big Ten, but this is its first World Cup buy. It joins the likes of financial companies like E-Trade, Quicken Loans and Wells Fargo that are running World Cup TV ads on Fox.
"It's a two-pronged campaign -- there's a brand aspect and a conversion aspect," said Shahin Edalati, executive creative director at SoFi. "We're trying to cast a wider net and expand SoFi's story."
Since its establishment seven years ago, SoFi has progressively expanded its product set. Its original product was student-loan refinancing, which is still its largest offering (the company has underwritten $30 billion in loans to date); it has since expanded to personal loans, mortgages and wealth management, and it's set to launch checking accounts later this year with a partner bank. SoFi has built a customer base of 500,000 "members," and despite withdrawing its bank license application last year after the resignation of former CEO Mike Cagney, it's still on a path to become a full-service financial platform. The World Cup TV ads and marketing efforts reinforce that positioning.
"I'm assuming they still want to become a bank," said Jason Mikula, head of digital marketing at Future Finance. "They're building awareness that SoFi is more than borrowing ... [so that] in two, three or five years down the line, people think of it not as a speciality student-loan refinancing company but essentially as a bank."
While the SoFi World Cup ad promotes the student-loan product, the slogan at the end -- "Borrow. Invest. Save." -- is a nod to its suite of services. The company said later this year it plans to serve up more marketing and ad material depicting its brand as a comprehensive financial ecosystem.
SoFi isn't an official World Cup sponsor, but it will run ads on Fox before, after, during the games, and during highlights. It's also doing a targeted paid ad campaigns on Twitter and Facebook, which will include banner and pre-roll videos. On Instagram, it's working with National Geographic on an Instagram story series featuring animals from each country. The company's choice of the World Cup is based on its understanding of the behavior of prospects and customers; they're young, attracted to sporting events, and it's part of a bigger effort to convey achievement through the metaphor of sports. SoFi said it also sees higher conversions from sports-related ad buys.
"We traditionally have had a lot of success with live sports events, like the Golden State Warriors game, the Big Ten or X games – sports inherently line up with our brand focus on ambition and the core demographic who watches them," Edalati said.
The 30-second spot, set against music by British musician Jake Bugg, cuts back and forth to two parallel stories -- customers who work hard in their careers, and expend a lot of effort training for sporting events (one of them is preparing to play in a soccer match). The message speaks to the narrative of ambition, or triumph over adversity, that SoFi is projecting: "The World Belongs to the Ambitious." The narrative of customers who take sacrifices to achieve goals is a theme SoFi has been pushing in other ad spots. For example, the company recently released an ad where SoFi organized a surprise party for a customer who paid off her loans, set against uplifting music.
SoFi wouldn't comment on how much the ad campaign costs, but the ad spend is a "larger investment" relative to its Big Ten ad play, and it drives higher viewership and impression opportunities, according to Margi Brown, SoFi's vp of marketing and media. The choice of the World Cup was based on SoFi's work with agencies that provide demographic details on those who watch broadcast events. SoFi uses the data, along with past industry performance metrics and aligns them with performance indicators for each media buy, and based on that analysis, the World Cup was a good fit for its target audience, she added.
Sports are an effective way to demonstrate hard work, imagery that's likely to connect with prospective customers, marketers say.
"There's something more visceral about the physical performance versus the academic," said Mikula. "The video of cramming for a medical exam is not as emotional as someone pouring sweat on the steps of a stadium."
And while American football can be politically polarizing, soccer has a unifying, global message.
"Unfortunately, American football has become divisive in public debate, but soccer has the power to unite and bring the world together," said Mulberry & Astor principal Chris Allieri. "What company doesn’t want to be about bringing the world together?"
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