Detroit Pistons superstar Blake Griffin is the recognizable visage in the new TV commercial for Flagstar, and CEO Alessandro DiNello is his co-lead. But the chief of the Midwest regional banking company was a reluctant performer.
“I didn’t want to do it; it’s not my style,” DiNello, who has been CEO since 2013 of the $18.5-billion company based in Troy, Michigan, told Chief Executive. “But the marketing team said they’d done some market studies and focus groups and they thought this was the theme that most resonated with the public. They kept coming back to me and said, ‘You’ve got to take one for the team here.’”
DiNello, who has been with the company for 40 years, has led a comeback for Flagstar from the depths of the financial crisis, when the mortgage-dependent bank was ravaged by the housing meltdown and assets dwindled from about $17.5 billion to just $9 billion. He has bolstered Flagstar’s retail-banking business and commercial lending while maintaining its status as one of America’s biggest home lenders. The company also has expanded regionally in Ohio, Indiana, Wisconsin and California as well as Michigan.
Hand-in-hand with its recovery, Flagstar came up with a brand theme that was about “crafting” its approach to the individual needs and personalities of its customers. “We knew we were the kind of company that truly tried to figure out how we could help people with their financial needs and make their lives better by understanding what they needed and what part of that we could satisfy,” DiNello said.
And increasingly, Flagstar is willing to crow about its renewed success. That’s why, in 2017, the company agreed to sponsor the National Basketball Association’s Pistons, and now its logo is the only commercial property that appears on players’ jerseys.
It was logical for Flagstar to consider talking with Griffin after the six-time all-star and Slam Dunk champion was acquired by the Pistons in a blockbuster trade with the Los Angeles Clippers last year. Yet Griffin had remained among the lower-profile NBA stars in terms of brand and advertising presence, a relationship with carmaker Kia among his few big deals.
“He’s very particular about who he does things with,” DiNello said of Griffin. But Flagstar was “looking for a way to anchor” its relationship with the Pistons “and to make it potentially more apparent.” Griffin’s people and the team “did a lot of due diligence to get comfortable with Flagstar, and we did the same with him. At the end of the day, there was a strong connection.”
DiNello and his lieutenants also believed that Griffin’s involvement would dovetail well with the “crafting” theme of its brand and advertising. The narrative could show how Griffin “crafted” a legendary basketball career from his childhood days on.
In the ad, titled “Two Crafted Lives,” scenes depicting the young Griffin building his basketball chops are interspersed with scenes depicting a young DiNello applying himself to future business skills, including conducting a school bake sale and figuring out math equations on a chalkboard. “It doesn’t just happen overnight,” the ad says. “It takes time … dedication … commitment.”
And while DiNello isn’t named while it’s obvious to viewers who Griffin is, the CEO’s identity is implied at the end of the ad when he and Griffin shake hands on a stage. The spot ends with the voiceover, “Success is crafted.”
“The focus isn’t on me but on [Griffin], the way we wanted,” DiNello explained. But the commercial “brings out different ways people can craft their careers and their lives and do good things along the way. That’s the message we wanted to send; that’s the kind of company we are. We help people be mentors where we can be, and we want to show that we really do care about our customers and do what’s most important for them.”
At the same time that he’s helping craft Flagstar’s higher profile, DiNello acknowledged remaining challenges in the trenches as well, especially from mandatory investments in online technology where industry giants can afford to outspend mid-market players many times over.
“The younger generation is establishing relationships with big national banks, and as older people die off, small and medium-sized banks” are endangered, he said. “It’s not a product issue; it’s strictly a technology issue.”