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


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.

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Unique marketing

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

“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


Capitalising on

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

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

“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

“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

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