Women to Watch

Women to Watch: Priscilla Brown, Sun Life Financial U.S.

On a Limited Budget, Exec Raises U.S. Profile of Well-Known Canadian Brand With Some Big Moves

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When Priscilla Brown joined Sun Life in 2009 as its U.S. marketing chief, the international financial-services brand had less than 4% brand awareness among consumers in the U.S. The good news was that Sun Life Financial was extremely well-known in Canada, where one in five households have a Sun Life product, and almost as well known in several Asian countries.

Priscilla Brown
Priscilla Brown

Ms. Brown's challenge was to bring the brand a similar status to the U.S., and to do it against competitors with ad budgets 10 times its size.

"We decided early on that with a very limited budget and low awareness, we had to focus heavily on every asset we had available," said Ms. Brown, who joined the company after 18 years at Lincoln Financial Services, where she rose to become chief marketing and brand officer. "That included our Sun Life Unretirement Index -- well-known in Canada -- our employee base, and our wholesale distribution."

But Sun Life also needed a marketing and advertising splash. And it had never done a national ad campaign in the U.S. It first hired the Martin Agency, Richmond, Va., and charged the Interpublic shop to come up with a plan that would make the brand name memorable, while also resonate integrity. In November 2009, the "Get to Know Sun Life" campaign launched, anchored by the "Sun Life Guys," whose tongue-in-cheek mission in TV ads and webisodes was to get well-known "Sun" brands to change to Sun Life, including K.C. and the Sunshine Band, Cirque de Soleil and Sun Valley, Idaho.

But Sun wasn't done yet. It went out and bought the naming rights to Dolphins Stadium, which is home to the NFL's Miami Dolphins, MLB's Florida Marlins and college football's University of Miami. It secured the deal only a couple of weeks before Super Bowl XLIV, held at what became Sun Life Stadium in February 2010.

While the reported $7.5-million-per-year deal (for five years with options) may seem like a big expense for a not-so-big spender, Ms. Brown, who worked on the Lincoln Financial Field deal at her previous job, said the payoff has been immense.

"Just from the Super Bowl alone, we generated $26 million in TV exposure," she said. "It's been a huge home run. ... The bottom line is [brand] recognition. ... We figured we would be remembered, but we needed something we could absolutely own."

And that low brand awareness she faced starting out? It hit the mid-teen percentages in 2010, less than a year after the marketing launch, and continues to head upward.

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