There’s perhaps no bigger sign of changes afoot at U.S. Bancorp — a company that, like a true Minnesotan, has long eschewed self-promotion — than its plans for a Super Bowl marketing blitz this weekend.

The company holds the naming rights to the Minneapolis stadium where the New England Patriots will take on the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday evening. The event, often the most-watched broadcast of the year, will put the name of its lead affiliate — U.S. Bank — in household living rooms across the country.

U.S. Bancorp bought the naming rights in June 2015, shortly after the National Football League selected Minneapolis for the 2018 Super Bowl. The company logo now sits on top of the towering glass stadium that normally serves as the home turf to the Minnesota Vikings. It is the first time a Super Bowl will be played in a stadium named after a bank.

The naming-rights deal was a bold marketing move for a Midwestern bank that historically has underplayed its heft in the industry, where it trails only the four U.S. megabanks in total assets. And it underscores the bank’s growing national ambitions as it prepares to expand its retail brand into new markets.

“It was an interesting shift to start to think about us as a national bank — and this is one big step toward that,” said Chief Administrative Officer Kate Quinn.

U.S. Bank Stadium, Minneapolis
Ready for the spotlight
CEO Andy Cecere has described U.S. Bancorp as the “best bank no one’s ever heard of," but it will get a marketing boost this Sunday as the company holds the name rights to the host stadium of Super Bowl LII in its hometown of Minneapolis.

In an interview this week, Quinn said she has been preparing for the big game for the bulk of her five-year tenure. She joined the company in 2013 as head of marketing and reputation strategy. When the NFL selected U.S. Bancorp’s home city for this year’s Super Bowl, she knew it was a big opportunity.

“It’s a big darn deal,” Quinn said, quoting a phrase often used by former CEO Richard Davis, who is a member of the Minnesota Super Bowl host committee.

That U.S. Bancorp is seeking out the national spotlight is a significant change.

The company has been a top performer in banking for years, having largely avoided the crisis-era mistakes on credit that have dogged many of its peers. But the same conservative culture that has produced industry-leading returns has been a barrier when it comes to marketing.

Telling its own story has simply not been a top priority. CEO Andy Cecere once described U.S. Bancorp as the “best bank no one’s ever heard of.”

“They have tended to be very focused on the bottom line, and have not spent the proportional marketing dollars that a Chase or a Bank of America has,” said Jim Miller, director of retail banking services at J.D. Power. “I think it may be in the roots of the bank that they have a more challenging time talking about themselves.”

Quinn said that gearing up for the Super Bowl — designing social media and other national marketing — has involved pushing the envelope of the company’s Midwestern sensibilities.

“I think we’re ready for it,” she said.

It has also involved a significant financial cost. Quinn declined to comment how much the company is spending on its Super Bowl-related branding. During 2017, however, total marketing and business development costs at the company increased 25% from a year earlier.

While U.S. Bancorp has never officially disclosed how much it paid for the stadium naming rights, media reports have pinned the figure at $220 million for the 25-year contract.

“We’re in a position now where we have demonstrated very positive [return on investment] on our brand spend,” Quinn said.

Kate Quinn, Vice Chairman and Chief Administrative Officer at U.S. Bancorp.
Minnesota hyperbole
“It’s a big darn deal,” U.S. Bancorp's Kate Quinn said of the marketing opportunity presented by the Super Bowl, which is being held in the company's hometown and in a stadium that bears the name of its lead affiliate, U.S. Bank. Erin Patrice O'Brien

In addition to having its name on the stadium for Sunday’s game, U.S. Bancorp is planning a large social media campaign. Part of that will involve what the company has billed a "Minnesota #NiceOff," or a conversation on Twitter among U.S. Bank and other big-name Minnesota brands, including Target, 3M, and Caribou Coffee.

The Twitter campaign is designed as a fun, somewhat snarky way to show off the sense of humility that locals are proud of.

“Minnesota nice is a good-natured, ‘It’s no trouble,’ ‘You can borrow my snow blower,’ ‘I couldn’t possibly take the last rhubarb bar,’ kind of attitude that’s generous towards neighbors," a spokeswoman said in an email describing the campaign.

U.S. Bancorp has also set up a lounge near the stadium, where visitors can try out new technology, such as contactless transactions, or payments with virtual currency.

The company declined, however, to purchase a national advertising spot. Super Bowl ads are said to be running at about $5 million for a 30-second spot.

“We’re getting so much brand recognition for the stadium, and I don’t think it would be marketing well spent,” Quinn said, noting that the companies that typically purchase the spots have it “down to a science.”

U.S. Bank does, however, have an ongoing branding partnership with NBC. During the pregame show on Sunday, the network will air several vignettes about the stadium and the company.

Taken together, the company hopes its national marketing efforts will make its brand more recognizable to retail customers.

Minnesota nice is a good-natured, ‘It’s no trouble,’ ‘You can borrow my snow blower,’ ‘I couldn’t possibly take the last rhubarb bar,’ kind of attitude that’s generous towards neighbors.

U.S. Bancorp currently has branches in 26 states, mostly in the Midwest and along the West Coast. It also has a national base of clients, using products ranging from credit cards to capital markets services.

Over the past year executives have said that the $452 billion-asset company is exploring ways to expand its retail footprint into major markets, using a limited number of branches and a significant digital presence.

“We’re looking at new ways,” Quinn said, noting that the company has a number of ideas in the pilot phase. “How can we digitally build that capability?”

It’s too soon, of course, to say whether U.S. Bancorp’s national marketing efforts will pay off.

"It’s hard to say that a single event will change customers minds," Miller said in discussing the impact of the stadium sponsorship.

Down the road, U.S. Bancorp hopes the effort will result in deposit growth, increased product sales and, more immediately, “overall awareness,” according to Quinn.

Discussing the Sunday’s game, the only regret Quinn expressed was that her hometown Vikings won’t be playing. The Vikings lost to the Eagles in the National Football Conference championship game two weeks ago.

She and Cecere will be in attendance, hosting members of the U.S. Bancorp board.

Reflecting on the national marketing push, Quinn said she is proud of what the company has accomplished.

“It might just be going back to that Minnesota nice idea, but everybody is excited, and everybody is doubling down,” she said.

Kristin Broughton

Kristin Broughton

Kristin Broughton is a reporter for American Banker, where she writes about the business of national and regional banking.