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February 17, 2012updated 13 Apr 2017 8:46am

Northwestern shouts out its message

Shrugging off its former low-profile image in the US life market, Northwestern Mutual life has embarked on an aggressive advertising campaign spearheaded by high-profile sports sponsorship Chad Dern, the insurers brand and advertising director, provides Charles Davis with insight into the new campaign. For years, Northwestern Mutual Life ran thousands of ads with the tagline, The Quiet Company

By Charles Davis

Shrugging off its former low-profile image in the US life market, Northwestern Mutual life has embarked on an aggressive advertising campaign spearheaded by high-profile sports sponsorship. Chad Dern, the insurer’s brand and advertising director, provides Charles Davis with insight into the new campaign.


For years, Northwestern Mutual Life ran thousands of ads with the tagline, ‘The Quiet Company’. It is quiet no longer.

With a series of new ads and a high-profile sponsorship of the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s (NCCA) basketball tournament, the US insurer has upped the volume considerably on its marketing efforts.

Mutual’s new television and print advertisements – which will begin airing as the NCAA basketball tournament begins in March – play off the insurer’s successful advertising campaign launched in 2011 that featured animation and bold music to hammer home its stability and tout its permanent life product. The spots go right at themes of investor safety and sureness and address the uncertainty of the markets head on.

Northwestern’s new campaign, takes viewers on a ride from the base to the top of a Corinthian column, a cornerstone feature of its iconic headquarters building in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.


Unique marketing approach

As the viewer watches the climb up the column, animated slogans like ‘guaranteed return’ and ‘economic security’ appear to pop out of the column.

The ads are unlike anything an insurer has created in recent memory – there are no spoken words, no people, and none of the traditional trappings of life insurance spots. Instead, the ads captivate the viewer by their movement and aesthetics and leave those slogans hanging in the viewer’s memory.

“We are using the themes and general look of the ads from last year’s campaign, but moving the toward a broader look at the entire range of financial planning products we provide,” says Chad Dern, director of brand and advertising for Northwestern.

Dern says all phrases in the ads came from interviews with consumers and financial representatives about its product.

“We used those interviews to really key in on what made the permanent insurance policy stand out, and pulled out the memorable phrases that stick in the consumer’s mind,” he says. “It’s bold, brash advertising that announces to the world that we’re not ‘The Quiet Company’ any longer. That worked well for us, but we have a new story to tell.”

Northwestern Mutual has been anything but quiet since the launch of its campaign, running the ads in heavy rotation during a wide variety of sports and financial programming. Print ads have accompanied the TV spots in golf magazines and financial publications like The Wall Street Journal.


Capitalising on growth

Northwestern is moving aggressively to capitalise on solid growth of its permanent life product which recorded a 23% rise in premiums in 2011.

In fact, Northwestern says its new campaign is designed not only to spread the word about its financial planning services and wealth management products, but also as a way to introduce the company to potential employees.

To give its new voice a huge national stage, Northwestern signed one of the biggest sponsorship deals in the American sporting scene – the national collegiate basketball tournament known simply as ‘March Madness’.

Northwestern Mutual brokered the deal through CBS Sports and Turner Sports to become an official corporate partner of the NCAA, representing the life insurance, wealth management and retirement planning services categories.

By replacing The Hartford, which ended its eight-year partnership with the college sports’ governing body in December, Northwestern gains exclusive marketing rights until the end of 2014 for what is one of the country’s most intensely followed sporting events. For a month, millions of Americans are glued to every minute of the tournament, a cultural phenomenon rivalling the National Football League’s Super Bowl.

Northwestern will mark its first national sports marketing sponsorship in company history with one of the biggest events of the year, providing it with an exclusive presence in millions of American households.


Big spend, big coverage

While financial terms were not disclosed, the average corporate partner invests around $7.5m per year for the rights to team up with the NCAA.

Over the course of the first four broadcasts of last year’s tournament, each telecast averaged 1.15m viewers. All told, last year’s big dance was the most watched since 2005, averaging 10.2m total viewers as the tournament moved from first-round games to the finals.

And while March Madness is by far the biggest jewel in the crown, the deal gives Northwestern Mutual access to 90-plus championship events to market through. So Nationwide also will blanket championship venues with on-the-ground marketing materials, giving local financial representatives a chance to shine.

Events such as the national Women’s Softball Championship in Oklahoma City, the Women’s Volleyball Championship in Louisville and the College World Series in Omaha bring in thousands of fans and also feature television coverage.

“The NCAA championships give us a unique way to combine our advertising with events on location designed to give our local sales force a local presence at a high-profile venue,” Dern says. “When those championships come to town, it’s the biggest thing that happens in the area for those weeks leading up to it, so it really gives them an opportunity to take the national brand and localise it.

Marketing will be in various formats besides TV, including digital, print and social media, Dern says.

“These are huge social media events now as well, so we’ll be really active on those channels, featuring interactive games and tying the sponsorship to a whole range of online activities as well,” he says. “We’re really expanding our branding to go beyond just life insurance, to retirement planning, wealth management advisory services and financial planning.”

Clearly anticipating big things from its aggressive marketing efforts, Northwestern Mutual has announced plans to recruit more than 2,000 financial representatives and 3,000 financial representative interns during 2012.

In 2011, Northwestern Mutual recruited more than 2,200 financial representatives, a 55% rise compared with average recruitment during the previous five years.

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