CMO of the Week: Quicken Loans & Rocket Mortgage's Casey Hurbis

Last summer, Casey Hurbis, CMO, Quicken Loans & Rocket Mortgage had to ask his team a question that many other marketers wrestled to answer: “Are we a brand that’s going to be in the Super Bowl when it’s unlike any others?”

Last summer, Casey Hurbis, CMO, Quicken Loans & Rocket Mortgage had to ask his team a question that many other marketers wrestled to answer: “Are we a brand that’s going to be in the Super Bowl when it’s unlike any others?”

Though the COVID-19 pandemic and its subsequent economic recession have upended many businesses over the past 11 months, the new opportunities in home refinancing and mortgages have been an accelerant for the business of Quicken Loans’ parent company Rocket Companies, Inc. In November, Rocket reported the biggest third quarter in the company’s 35-year history, with year-over-year revenue increases of 163%, to a record $4.74 billion. 

So despite the odds, “2020 was a fantastic year for us when it came to home purchase,” Hurbis recalled at Brand Innovators’ C-Suite & Marketing Leadership Livecast on Feb. 10. “Knowing home means more to people today than probably ever before, we know Americans want a choice when it comes to buying a dream home in our great country. That gave us the confidence to be in the game.”

Hurbis and his team of 100 in-house creatives reviewed over 150 creative concepts in a “jump-ball” pitch from agencies over the summer, eventually landing on “Certain Is Better” — a two-part campaign starring Tracy Morgan that aired nationally during Super Bowl LV on CBS Feb. 7.

The two spots marked Quicken Loans’ fourth consecutive Super Bowl buy, and Hurbis’ sixth campaign overall for the big game, having spent six years with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles prior to joining Rocket Companies in 2017.

Read on for five takeaways and tips for Super Bowl marketing in a year unlike any other from Hurbis’ Fireside Chat, moderated by Jim D’Antoni, director of national media sales at DISH Media. Click the link below to watch their conversation in full.

  1. Plan ahead. “I heard a CMO tell me, ‘We didn't start thinking about [Super Bowl] until after Thanksgiving,’ which gave me immediate chest pains,” Hurbis recalled. Since Rocket Companies’ agency teams are in-house, “We start thinking about it in April, May, and even though we’re an in-house agency we’ll ask outside agencies to pitch us ideas in June and July.” 
  2. Don’t cast a celebrity for the sake of casting a celebrity. Though this year’s campaign with Tracy Morgan follows in the footsteps of recent Super Bowl spots with Keegan-Michael Key (2018 and 2019) and Jason Momoa (2020), Hurbis cautions against celebrity cameos as a quick buzz tactic. “We don’t use celebrities just for the name. Our celebrity partners execute the brand idea all the way through the ad.” Plus, Hurbis likes to encourage his A-list talent to contribute their own ideas. “The first time I met him on a Zoom, he said ‘I want to be part of this creative process.’” The involvement paid off: “I just talked to Tracy yesterday and he said, ‘The biggest compliment I got was my 8-year-old daughter telling me they talked about [the spots] in her classroom and she was super proud of her dad.’ That’s the most important KPI to me. That, and making sure your CEO’s happy.”
  3. Read the room. No one wants to be reminded of the horrors of 2020, and the ongoing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic during the Super Bowl. So Hurbis and his team took the topic of tone into heavy consideration. “We asked, Is this the year that we’re serious or is funny gonna be tone deaf? Thankfully for us as a brand, we did a very nice job of delivering a piece of good creative. It should educate, engage and entertain. That’s who we are, this is not the year to be serious. So we wanted to go towards the humor. America wants to lean in, have fun and be able to smile.”
  4. Make the work last more than just one night. “I don't believe in a one-and-done. I believe in developing a Super Bowl campaign that is campaignable over the course of time,” Hurbis says. Though many other brands premiered their spots in full days - sometimes even a full week - before the airdate, Rocket Companies always saves their big reveal for the live broadcast. “We have a whole teaser strategy. We had a really good teaser last year with Jason Momoa, this year with Tracy, Liza Koshy, Dave Bautista and Joey Bosa from the L.A. Chargers. So we tease it and give nothing away. But man, as soon as that spot airs you should see our war room. It’s like a holiday tree, and it’s activate, activate, activate. It’s listening, engaging with other brands, utilizing our partnerships to extend and amplify. We do a lot of tying threads leading up to it and certainly afterwards. And sometimes you gotta act in real time. So as a brand like Cadillac or Vroom or State Farm engages with us, we are prepared to immediately engage with them because it lifts everybody up. And now we’re three days into it and I’m still reviewing work. We have a lot more work that comes as part of this campaign. We have hundreds and hundreds of assets that come out of our Super Bowl production.”
  5. Super Bowl advertising is not for the faint of heart — especially in a pandemic. “I was away from my wife and kids for a month for shooting and quarantining,” Hurbis says. “And every time where you’re frustrated or not sure of yourself, I take a deep breath and look in the mirror and say, ‘If this were easy, everyone would do it. But you’re gonna get through this.’ Not premiering the creative in advance also means sleepless nights right up until Super Bowl Sunday. “This year, we did not ship our two spots with Tracy Morgan until 3 o'clock on Saturday morning. And then we activated it with a really robust war room, and that ran from about 4 in the afternoon on Sunday and I signed off around 2 a.m. Monday morning.” 

Andrew Hampp is an entertainment marketing consultant for Brand Innovators and the founder of consultancy 1803 LLC, based in Berkeley, California.

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