SoFi Launching Their First TV Campaign During the Superbowl

SoFi Superbowl ad

The company that basically invented student loan refinancing, SoFi, is achieving another industry first: the hallowed Superbowl ad. The TV spot reportedly cost them $5 million and will air during the second quarter of the Superbowl a week from Sunday.

SoFi started out in student loans, inventing an entire new lending category when they launched back in 2011. We have been covering the maverick company for many years now and they clearly do things their own way. Now, they are going all out in an expensive marketing campaign to bring the SoFi name to the masses. The ad that will air during the Superbowl is below (you can also see it here):

While it is not a secret that SoFi has a super prime loan book with one of the lowest default rates on the planet, in the ad they are really emphasizing the fact that not everyone can be approved for a loan at SoFi. In a binary fashion they categorize people as great or not explaining that not everyone is great enough to get approved for a loan at SoFi.

My Take on the SoFi Superbowl Ad

Commenting on Superbowl ads is clearly a subjective exercise but here is my two cents. I am not a fan of this ad. It strikes me as elitist and even somewhat discriminatory. While it is not discriminating on sex, race or religion it is implying that you are not a great person if you don’t get approved for a SoFi loan. I happen to have a close friend, who is a great person in my opinion, who was denied a SoFi loan last year. Another friend recently got approved for a SoFi loan but when he saw the ad last night he also didn’t like it. He didn’t feel good about being part of this elitist club that SoFi has arbitrarily created.

Now, I am sure SoFi realize that many people will hate the ad. They clearly want to become part of the national conversation and they will probably achieve that goal with this ad. But where does this take their brand? There are plenty of elite brands such as Rolex, Tiffany’s, Ferrari and Armani that have created a premium brand without rubbing it in people’s faces and being divisive.

I take issue with the fact that measuring greatness is in any way related to someone’s financial situation. I love SoFi and think they are an innovative company that are doing some great things but this ad is beneath them. I think it will hurt them in the long term.

That’s just my opinion. What do you think?

Peter Renton is the chairman and co-founder of LendIt Fintech, the world’s first and largest digital media and events company focused on fintech.

LendIt Fintech conducts three conferences a year for the leading fintech markets of the USA, Europe, and Latin America. LendIt also provides cutting-edge content all year long via audio, video, and written channels.

Peter has been writing about fintech since 2010 and he is the author and creator of the Fintech One-on-One Podcast, the first and longest-running fintech interview series.

Peter has been interviewed by the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, The New York Times, CNBC, CNN, Fortune, NPR, Fox Business News, the Financial Times, and dozens of other publications.

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Jaylin
Jaylin
Jan. 29, 2016 9:25 am

How can you short student debt is what I want to know. Refi or no refi thats the next opportunity.

Have never been a big fan of the bombastic approach of Sofi. Take a seat and relax Sofi; you won’t replace banks. Additionally, consumers aren’t investing in their “loans”.

It is probably big banks anyways.

Loren Picard
Loren Picard
Jan. 29, 2016 10:32 am

It does seem to be an odd message for a “social finance” company to put out given the zeitgeist of the Bernie Sanders campaign vis-a-vis the Millennials. And given the Super Bowl will be watched by a large contingent of Donald Trump voters who feel disenfranchised by elitist politics and finance, it leads one to wonder who is the target audience for the commercial? I think the message should be about SoFi being a great company and people could then bask in the halo effect if approved for a loan. SoFi’s spot is quite a contrast to Quicken’s Rocket Mortgage Super Bowl spot.

Loren Picard
Loren Picard
Jan. 30, 2016 10:07 am
Reply to  Peter Renton

Peter – You can find Quicken’s Rocket spot on Youtube. I agree with you. At a minimum SoFi should remove the last sentence of the commercial and replace with why someone is “credit great.” There is a potential for big unintended consequences. It is obvious SoFi is going for the verb strategy. To SoFi versus to bank. Products as verbs are grassroots memes; they usually don’t come from PR campaigns. Does anybody really “Yahoo” anymore? Did anyone actually say those words? No, they google (lower case intentional). I don’t remember an advertising campaign trying to get people to stop yahooing and start googling. This leads to the conclusion that a verb not to SoFi’s liking may emerge. The least damaging is that “to quicken” or “to rocket” will get traction and “to sofi” won’t. The most damaging is that a verb such as “SoFiled” gains grassroots acceptance. There are so many entendres with the term that I’m apprehensive even to list them. The definition of which is: Someone who has been determined by SoFi not to be great. It will be interesting to find out what the ultimate wisdom of the crowd turns out to be.

Brian Korn
Jan. 29, 2016 2:44 pm

Peter,

I agree. Great thought pushing out a SB ad. But this is a missed opportunity for a leading industry platform to demonstrate its inclusiveness and interconnectivity with the way people now bank and will in the future. Instead it comes off as elitist. It’s fine to be elitist if you are Rolex, but not from a fintech most people outside our space have never heard of.

On a serious point, this could pique the interest of bank regulators who have stated they are looking to crack down on the use of social profiling and using other non-financial factors in the extension of credit. I’m not saying SoFi is doing that, but the ad doesn’t explain why people are “great.” It would be helpful if there was an explanation clause somewhere that said “Because we only want people with the best credit profile…” so it’s clear the guy isn’t being rejected just because he works at Starbucks. Regulators also scrutinize diversity carefully, so it’s good that not all “great” people are white.

BK

Fred93
Fred93
Jan. 29, 2016 7:50 pm

Superbowl ad = waste of money. Controversy, on the other hand, is a good thing in ads such as this, as it generates free publicity when people write about it (as you just have). It is an ad multiplier.

todd
todd
Jan. 30, 2016 3:38 pm

Think CreditKarma’s doing a much better job of training the public to think of themselves as successful or not based upon their ability to go into debt – without explicitly saying “you’re a loser” if your score sucks…

The thing doesn’t even mention – explicitly or implicitly – a value proposition (what you get for being great) onto which consumers coud latch… AmEx does exclusivity – implicitly – but promises perks and rewards…

I wonder whether the ad agency is laughing all the way to the SoFi or all the way to their bank – or both. 😉

todd
todd
Jan. 30, 2016 6:53 pm
Reply to  todd

What bugs me is not the elitism, it’s that the elitism isn’t implemented properly (making me meta-elitist):

Part of the missing proposition, vis a vis exclusivity, is that there’s no way for others to know whether or not you’re “great”. Whipping out the amex can instantly change the hotel manager’s demeanor or get a bartender’s attention (or impress the date)… but here we have a straight up appeal to millennial vanity but it’s missing a mechanism for them to get the attention/approval from others that most millennials crave…

If we want to be explicitly in-your-face honest, then “I saved 1.5% on my whopping student loan debt at SoFi” probably isn’t going to get anyone laid in this imaginary VIP lounge of undercover “great” people.

You gotta give the kids something tangible to brag about in their otherwise vapid and dull existences…

Oh – and thanks for making me feel older and more cynical than I already did. That’s… impressive. 😉

Observer
Observer
Feb. 1, 2016 8:33 am

Completely tone deaf and arrogant. SoFi is on the fast track to implosion-city. They will be an HBS case study unfortunately. Too big too fast too greedy.

David Whittington
David Whittington
Feb. 2, 2016 2:37 pm

I have an 818 FICO score and no debt, but based on this dumb SOFI commercial I would NEVER borrow money from these dikwads. This commercial is beyond elitism – it is just plain ridiculous.

todd
todd
Feb. 5, 2016 3:25 am

Someone much younger and less cynical (but working on it, diligently) explained the cheese-grater thing to me. I’d thought it was, at best, a too-abstract and too high-minded concept-bit re: quantization / credit scoring…

But…apparently…

The “cheese grater cheer” is a kind of middle-school (highschool, now, I suppose – or maybe college by the time I finish writing this) cheer of encouragement, one of a number of pre-approved and participation-mandatory sort of Pavlovian classroom / group-“attaboys” (or “atta-persons”), dreamed up in the last five years or so by “educational consultants”, for the emotional support of students who are micro-aggressed by being asked questions and expected to supply answers – correct, if possible.

One hand flat, the other in a fist “Grate, Grate, Grate!” – and, just like that, Timmy is ready for college – or at least a nice big student loan, since he didn’t qualify for anything actually, you know, merit-based.

They’re also – kids these days – apparently rewarded with “snaps” (not of the ginger variety). Lordy…