February 5

James Militzer / Scott Anderson / Kyle Poplin

Weekly Roundup: Grading Super Bowl Ads, Teaching Social Entrepreneurship, Fact-Checking Global Health

Financial Inclusion at the Super Bowl: Grading the Ads

The Super Bowl has long since evolved beyond football to become a celebration of good old-fashioned American excess. The average price of tickets is almost $5,000 – with seats at the 50-yardline going for a cool $20,500. Some 11.2 million pounds of potato chips, 51.7 million cases of beer, 278 million avocados and 1.3 billion chicken wings and are expected to be consumed during the event. And the commercials, which for many viewers have become more of a draw than the game itself, will cost a record $5 million for a 30-second spot – for those keeping score at home, that’s $167,000 a second.

So it may come as a surprise to learn that a growing number of those ads will be from financial services providers focused on customers who can’t afford a ticket to the game. At least six financial companies have purchased airtime for the broadcast, up from just two last year. Three of these brands have a strong focus on boosting the financial health and access of underserved or over-indebted clients, and they’re each making their Super Bowl commercial debut. So if three data points make a trend, you might say this is the year financial health and inclusion came to the big game – and perhaps took a step further toward the national mainstream.

We’ve graded the three ads, in terms of how effectively they present these companies and the inclusive elements of their brands to the Super Bowl’s almost 190 million expected viewers.



According to long-time financial inclusion advocate and current PayPal CEO Dan Schulman, his company’s ad aims to show that “technology can play a tremendous role in reaching the billions of people around the world that are outside the financial system. That’s a very inclusive vision of what new money can be.” But the ad itself has no noticeable focus on underserved customers in the U.S. or out of it, though PayPal is positioning itself to become a major payments player in emerging markets. Instead, it portrays the company as a provider of “New Money” – payments services that are more accessible and modern than those of stodgy traditional providers. As PayPal’s first major marketing campaign as a stand-alone company (it was spun off from eBay last year), this appeal to the broader market makes sense – and the ad’s fast cuts and cool soundtrack somehow make banking seem exciting. But in terms of promoting Schulman’s pet cause of financial inclusion, it doesn’t really advance the ball.




SunTrust Banks

“Hold your breath … hold it … hold it. What you’re feeling now is just like financial stress. It’s like you’re drowning. Meanwhile, the moments that matter slip away.” That’s how SunTrust Banks’ ad opens, over a series of shots featuring rather stressed-looking people of various ages and ethnicities. The tension soon resolves, as the narrator urges viewers to breathe again, move toward “financial confidence,” and “join the movement at,” where they can find quizzes, tips and money management advice. Reportedly the first Super Bowl ad to promote financial wellness, the commercial hopes to “start a conversation around what needs to be done” to help Americans avoid the stress associated with managing money, says Brad Dinsmore, SunTrust’s head of consumer banking. But while the cause is worthy and the ad is beautifully shot, it’s hard to get excited about another “national conversation” on financial health started by a for-profit company with skin in the game. Even so, it’s good to see the issue getting some oxygen.




Social Finance Inc., also known as SoFi

Marketplace lender SoFi started by refinancing the student loans of young people with promising careers but loads of debt and little credit history. It has evolved to offer personal loans and mortgages, aiming to ”provide a comprehensive solution on the consumer finance side, an alternative to a bank, across the board,” in the words of its co-founder and CEO Mike Cagney. Its ad, like its brand, is geared toward cash-poor, degree-rich millennials whose financial situations are likely to improve as their careers develop. It was shot by a Hollywood director, and looks like it. The camera jumps from person to person in a street and restaurant, most of them young and affluent-looking, with the narrator labelling a few “great” – but the majority some version of “not great.” It builds up to the tagline: SoFi offers “great loans for great people.” But the company apparently gave little thought to the ad’s implied subtext: that SoFi isn’t interested in your business if you’re not “great,” i.e., a highly profitable, risk-free customer. Indeed, the original narration made that meaning painfully clear with this closing line: “Find out if you’re great at; you’re probably not.” Though the company cut those final three words in a last-minute edit, the ad’s message and overall feel still undermine its professed “commitment to inclusiveness.” If the brand is seeking to counteract the perception that it’s only for well-heeled hipsters and Ivy League graduates, this ad is a major fumble.



– James Militzer



A New School Approach to Social Enterprise

This week, the UK-based School for Social Entrepreneurs (SSE) opened its first institution in India. Since it was launched in 1997, SSE has endeavored to help both social entrepreneurs and nonprofits to establish, scale and fund their ventures. SSE manages schools in 12 cities in the UK as well as Ireland, Canada and Australia, but the New Delhi school will be its first in a developing country. Professional services giant PwC is serving as a founding partner to develop the India school’s first fellowship program.

“SSE believes that strategic mentoring of one social entrepreneur will help create several more in the society,” said Jaivir Singh, chair of SSE India and vice chair of the PwC India Foundation.

As reported by Pioneer’s Post, SSE’s Fellowship Program, “which is currently open for applications, will support 20 social entrepreneurs in northern India to develop new social impact organisations that aspire to tackle inequality and social disadvantage.”

“We have spent the past twelve months building a foundation of knowledge and refining our approach so it works the best it can for the Indian context,” Alastair Wilson, CEO of the School for Social Entrepreneurs, told the site.

Knowing neither the details nor its success rate, we at NB can’t endorse SSE’s model or its curriculum. But we definitely endorse the vision behind this expansion.


Scott Anderson


Just the facts, and why that matters

“Karol Wojtyla was referred to in Saturday’s Credo column as ‘the first non-Catholic pope for 450 years.’ This should, of course, have read ‘non-Italian.’ We apologise for the error.”

That’s one of the “worst-of” media errors from 2015 cited on the International Fact-Checking Network, part of the the Poynter Institute for Media Studies. We bring it to your attention because a) it’s hilarious and b) it’s tangentially related to global health.

Poynter is expanding its fact-checking, partnering with PolitiFact and Africa Check to launch a 16-month pilot initiative to investigate claims about global health and development. It’s funded by a $380,000 grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

“Facts about health and developing countries are often misunderstood or distorted. Poynter’s collaboration with PolitiFact and Africa Check will hold those making false claims accountable, and provide media and the public with context about complex issues,” Poynter announced last week.

Why does the world need a clearinghouse for global health truth? To clear up rumors like the one currently making the rounds, that genetically modified mosquitoes caused the Zika outbreak. Or to make sure the “bigger cause of death” is really a bigger cause. Or to clear up misconceptions that contraceptives cause cancer … or that noncommunicable diseases affect mostly old people … or that all philanthropy is equal.

Timely, factual information about global health can improve decision-making and save lives, and we look forward to seeing if this new initiative can become the go-to source. And we resolve to keep ourselves off any “worst-of” list they might compile.


– Kyle Poplin




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Photo: A shot from SunTrust Banks’ Super Bowl commercial.


Education, Health Care
financial inclusion