First Interstate Bank Bobcat And Griz Banking



In June of 2014, First Interstate Bank (FIB) had some exciting news. They had entered into an exclusive affinity marketing agreement with the Montana State University (MSU) athletic department and MSU Bobcat Athletics. 

MSU alumni are notoriously loyal and proud, but we knew it would be a challenge to convince them to pay a yearly premium for the privilege of adding the Bobcat logo to their wallets and purses.

FIB has a long history of acting upon and delivering on their unique brand promise, so when this partnership required that they roll up into MSU’s brand, it was met with a feeling of trepidation. Finding a marriage of two disparate brands (FIB and MSU) was a big task, and like most affinity marketing, it can feel risky tying your brand to another. There was a high level of excitement around this exclusive agreement, but we needed to show favorable ROI right out of the gate.


It’s rare to have a project where the target market is so clearly defined. Montana's million or so residents were equally divided into two camps of collegiate rivalries: University of Montana Griz fans and MSU Bobcat supporters.

(Thanks to the Independent Record for the research for this map.)

Our initial market research indicated that the ideal Bobcat Banking customer would be converted from an existing FIB customer, but even customers of other banks were open to switching for the chance at a Bobcat-branded debit card. Research also showed that in a climate where free checking accounts are the norm, consumers with a higher-than-average income were most likely to respond and pay the $15 yearly fee.


Our approach was built on two pillar ideas: outclass the competition, and speak the audience’s language.


FIB’s position in the marketplace is one of a regional bank. It is smaller, more personal, and more community-focused than the big national banks, while being big enough to offer products and service that the smaller banks and credit unions can’t match.

We decided on a media strategy to match: the campaign would be anchored by a TV spot, supported by print and online display ads, and feature some unique non-traditional sponsorship partnership opportunities.

The goal was to create a 30-second ad that tapped into MSU alumni team pride in a powerful setting, that included a bit of a surprise.


The second part of our strategy for Bobcat Banking was to evolve the bank’s brand for this specific campaign. The messaging most likely to evoke a strong emotional response in the target market (college sports fans) was not going to fit within the existing FIB ad framework. We pitched a concept that was pretty far outside the box, and the client responded with a willingness to push the boundaries.

The objective was to create a message that made MSU Bobcat fans feel like FIB "got" them.

Tactics and Results

In the fall of 2014, we launched Bobcat Banking with a bang, blanketing the market when MSU students were returning to campus and football season was in full swing. For MSU alumni, this is the most exciting time of year and the anticipation of the start of the Bobcat Football is on everyone's mind. We partnered with MSU to roll out a co-branded effort, and utilized in-game video, signage and guerrilla style marketing. FIB employees were on the ground, throwing tailgate parties, hosting post-game field time, and free ticket giveaways that were exclusively reserved for Bobcat Banking customers.

We bought :30 slots during high-profile sporting events targeted to a Bozeman audience and several surrounding markets. This was supported by traditional print, online, and radio in similar markets.

In the first six months of the campaign, there were over 3,700 signups for Bobcat Banking, and almost 700 of those signups were new customers. The excitement of being part of this Bobcat community was enough for these new customers to switch banks. A survey of members revealed that 94% of them would highly recommend Bobcat Banking to a friend or family member. The majority of respondents communicated that their favorite thing about being a member was supporting MSU Bobcat Athletics, which has given FIB an opportunity to further align themselves as a strategic life partner for their customers.

And don't worry Griz fans, FIB has you covered too.