Innovation Refunds’ campaign with Ty Burrell, 8-time Emmy award winning actor and SMB owner, highlights government incentives for SMBs

  • Innovation Refunds, which helps SMBs apply for government ERC credits, recently launched a campaign with Ty Burrell, who plays Phil Dunphy on Modern Family.
  • The firm's creative director, Hunter Somerville, joins us on the podcast to talk about the power of working with a celebrity in financial services.

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Innovation Refunds’ campaign with Ty Burrell, 8-time Emmy award winning actor and SMB owner, highlights government incentives for SMBs

Welcome to our latest Tearsheet Live event. We're doing these weekly -- Wednesdays at 12 EST -- on Linkedin. Follow us here.

Joining us is Hunter Somerville, creative director of Innovation Refunds. Occasionally we dig in to marketing and campaigns and how financial services and fintech companies are finding new ways to create leads, acquire new customers, and build brand. Hunter and his team recently launched a campaign with Ty Burrell, the 8-time Emmy award winning actor who plays Phil Dunphy on Modern Family. Burrell is also an SMB owner and a customer of the company.

I spoke with Hunter about what it's like to work with celebrity talent and the need to differentiate in markets with commodified products. He shares the mechanics of the campaign and how to get the best out of a spokesperson for a company with big aspirations.

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The following excerpts were edited for clarity.

What's Innovation Refunds?

Hunter Somerville, Innovation Refunds: The company has been around for a few years. The mission is really to be a champion of small businesses. We feel like they're the backbone of the American economy and sometimes kind of overlooked and underappreciated. The most powerful thing a small business or medium business can have is capital. So however we can, we try to make that happen. We're really focused on the ERC, the Employee Retention Credit, which was part of the Cares Act.

The ERC and SMBs

I think people are very familiar with PPP loans. ERC was a part of that same Cares Act as the PPP loans. We're doing a pretty darn good job at helping more and more small businesses be aware of the ERC and take advantage of it, if they are eligible.

It's about rewarding any small and medium business who kept their employees on payroll during 2020 and 2021. And it's a pretty large stimulus for a lot of businesses, and you look at what's going on post COVID, inflation, or just the general difficulties of having a small medium business, it's not easy. So it's just a pretty important and maybe a once in a lifetime opportunity in terms of the size of these credits.

The reason it's complicated is because payroll is obviously an intimidating thing for a lot of people. That's why it's outsourced by so many businesses. Then there's profit and loss statements. There's limited commerce clauses within this thing, too. So, there's a lot of paperwork, a lot of things that can be intimidating for somebody who doesn't necessarily do this for a living. And that's why I think we're doing so well. We're providing a pretty important service and making it feel a lot easier than than it is.

Rebranding and promoting the company with Ty Burrell

I'd come in and done a bit of a rebrand. I always say we're asking people to show us their taxes. And that's the most intimate thing. So there's a lot of trust needed. Anybody who goes through this process, you really need to trust the people that you're working with. And so we had built a good base of looking and feeling and sounding trustworthy -- everything about the brand felt very trustworthy, I think. And the next step was going a little bit more mainstream. How do we get more people to see us? Because I think we're probably the best branded of what we do. And in terms of companies, how do we bring that to a wider audience?

And in my opinion, I think it only would have made sense if we're going to use a celebrity. And that wasn't the initial goal: let's get a celebrity. It was we need to find the right person, and we landed on Ty Burrell. He owns four small businesses in Utah. And he's super passionate about small businesses. He had his own a relief fund for Utah-based restaurants and bars during COVID. So he's already doing things that made sense for what we're doing.

Getting Ty on board

When we approached him, and for one of his businesses, he hadn't applied yet for ERC. So we took him through the process. He's a real customer. And it made just perfect sense. And that's all like the behind the scenes. It had to be true -- everything we do has to be real with real customers. Authenticity, building that trust. Obviously, we wanted Ty for his comedy chops, his brilliance, his incredible performance, and his willingness to play ball with us. It just opens up the gates to be more mainstream and less of a niche messaging and audience.

The other great thing about Ty is he's nice, he's kind, he feels like the heart of America. What we do well is in service -- we have a huge number of people mostly in Des Moines. Iowans are some of the kindest people we've got. And I think that lines up really, really well with who Ty is, though he's from Oregon, now living in Utah. There's a connection there. You're not going to deal with Ty on the phone, but you're going to deal with people who feel just as kind as he is. That's another great reason that we're staying on brand and promoting the truth of who we are.

Working with a celebrity

We're fairly new and not super well known. And it certainly took a bit of talking and negotiating with Ty's team and Ty. But knowing that we all had the same philosophy, we're all trying to help small, medium sized businesses, this is arguably the most important sector of business in America to him and to us.

Negotiating with celebrities for advertising contracts is a complicated process. And you have to follow very specific rules: what they will and won't do, where the media can and cannot go. But we created a full suite of ads from our content. We've got audio content, there's digital ads, banner ads, social posts. And then a lot of that supports some of the other stuff that we were doing already, like direct mail and just the harder working lower funnel stuff, as well.

I think the key to all of it, though, is that your celebrity talent needs to be fully onboard and not just cashing a paycheck. I think you see that a lot in social media where you pair with a celebrity, and they'll post your thing for a big chunk of money. And then the next day they move on. They're posting for somebody else. So you're losing a lot of equity. For us, it was really important that it's a long term investment, that it's a multimedia thing, that Ty actually believes in it. So without that, I think that strays from our testimonial strategy that we've been taking.

Channels for the campaign

Anywhere that we can get it up there, to be honest, and reach our target. We're on broadcast TV, streaming, digital ads, pre roll, social, paid and organic. Everything. When I started in business, they always talked about a 360 campaign. And all that really meant was TV, radio, and print. And at that point, maybe a digital ad. Now it's 6000 degrees -- there's so many ways to reach people now. And we're doing the best we can in every single way.

Building experience working with influencers

I did some of this type of work in a previous lifetime. I guess the biggest celebrities I've worked with aren't even people -- they were the Muppets. I got to do a campaign for Toyota. We had a big Super Bowl campaign and somehow, that wasn't even on my list of dreams, because I didn't think it was possible. But I was out there with a camera directing Kermit and interviewing him. And it was very surreal. That was really cool. Terry Crews was also part of that.

I don't know if you could tell from my accent if it's come out yet, but I'm from Toronto. So our budgets there don't usually allow you to work with A-list celebrities. Coming down to the States, it was pretty cool that you get to bring on proper talent and watch how much better they are at what they do. No disrespect to working commercial actors. I think what's even better is having an A-list actor like Ty, who full heartedly believes in the thing that you believe as a company. It just made the process really easy.

He also upped the level of our scripts and everything because he has some writers that he's developing projects with that he brought in to help write the scripts and punch them up. It just makes a world of difference. I'm really proud of this work and constantly surprised that we actually got to make it.

Early performance of the campaign

It's been pretty great so far. Just looking at some of the early data, we've got a pretty good spike in leads coming off of some of the TV. We've had some high profile media placements, like at an MLB All Star Game. And yeah, what seems to be working pretty well is the stuff that Ty's best at: namely, video content. We've got some radio and podcast ads coming hopefully in the next week or two. We'll see how that helps. If you do it right, have the right strategy, right people in line, and everybody believes, it's hard to not see some really positive results quickly.

Using this strategy in financial services and fintech

I was thinking about Liquid Death, the bottled water. It's an expected comparison to what we do. I think there's similarity with a brand like that where there's parity among all competitors -- bottled water. In the financial world of banking, especially, but also loans, it's so highly regulated that pretty much everybody offers about the same thing. So you can either just shoot it out there and hope that you're doing well or you can create a brand that stands for something, that people connect with.

That, in my opinion, is the advice I would give: create yourself in a unique way. If everybody's saying the same thing, the only reason someone's going to choose you is because they already like you better. So for us, in my opinion, being the best of what we do, that's why the Ty Burrell things work because it fits with our brand. It strengthens who we already were and brings us to a whole new level.

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