Like a good neighbor, American insurance companies have forged strong relationships with advertising agencies over the years.
Developing the right ad campaign for insurance consumers, with a message and pitch that resonate with people from all walks of life, can be daunting. Even harder for ad executives is making the visuals and script so memorable that consumers talk about the commercials for months and even years after their on-air debut.
“It’s very hard to get people to take notice, much less engage… especially in an increasingly ‘ad blocked’ and ‘time-shift’ media marketplace, in which consumers avoid commercials,” says Colin McConnell, chief brand officer for Prudential Financial.
Figuring out the best approach to an insurance commercial takes talent, time and collective vision.
“In the life insurance category, every company is offering similar products, so many times the messaging is similar as well,” says David Wozniak, vice president and head of Advertising and Sponsorships at Lincoln Financial Group (LFG), the marketing arm of Lincoln National Corp.
“What LFG has been able to do is flip the way that people view buying an insurance plan,” Wozniak adds. “It’s not just why you should have the plan, it’s who you are protecting when you buy one.”
Spokespeople both real and fictional
Other insurance operatives turn to actors and fictional spokespeople to sell their products.
Actor Dennis Haysbert lends his silky baritone timbre to Allstate commercials. Meanwhile, actress Stephanie Courtney may be more recognizable these days as “Flo,” the dark-haired, headband wearing pitchwoman for Progressive.
GEICO gained a similar degree of notoriety beginning in 2005, when the company launched a series of commercials featuring Neanderthal cavemen who struggled with modern life. Those characters became well-known enough to spawn the short-lived 2007 sitcom aptly called “Caveman.”
Television’s unparalleled reach
Despite the emergence of social media, TV remains a major advertising vehicle, according to Statista.com. Experts from that online statistics portal predict that spending on television advertising nationwide will increase from $71 billion in 2015 to $75 billion in 2016.
Of that, American insurance companies contributed at least $6 billion, according to Kantar Media, a New York-based market research firm.
“A truly great commercial rises above other category messaging by being memorable and changing consumer behavior,” says Lincoln Financial Group’s David Wozniak. “The goal is to inspire active awareness — moving past consumers simply knowing about your brand and motivating them to take action.”
Striking the right tone
Many popular insurance commercials strike a comedic tone. For example, State Farm’s current TV commercials feature fictional agents with magical powers who take calls from distressed clients in precarious situations. The agents zap clients to the safety of their local State Farm office.
Another funny bone tickler is GEICO’s Peter Pan Reunion ad, which generated over 2 million YouTube views. In the commercial, which aired this year, a youthful Peter Pan attends his high school reunion for the class of 1965. The child-like character acts like a teenager with his peers, who are retirement age: “You don’t look a day over 70!” His gauche social skills subtly encourage baby boomer viewers to reflect on their mortality and financial-planning needs.
Meanwhile, other insurance commercials tug at the heart strings of TV viewers who may feel insecure about the safety and security of their families or businesses.
“Our challenge is that our products are intangible, complicated, rely on delayed gratification, and are usually sold as part of an advisory relationship,” says Prudential’s Colin McConnell. “Financial protection and retirement readiness are very real and pressing needs in our society. Our industry has to find thoughtful, creative means to illustrate the facts and invite a personal connection to engage and change behavior on these issues.”
“Great commercials transcend consumer advertising,” Wozniak says. “You want employees, advisors, and sales channels to rally behind the spots and be eager to utilize them in a way that helps them to continue the personal connection they have with the people they work with.”
LifeHealthPro surveyed several major insurers about their most successful television ads ever, then identified what are arguably the 10 best insurance TV commercials of all time. Take a look…
Photo provided by LFG.
10. Lincoln Financial Group: Responsibility of Love Campaign
Spot Title: “Precious Few”
First Aired: March 2016
Ad Agency: FCB in New York
Directors: Brendan and Emmett Malloy
Synopsis: “This spot features a series of vignettes that highlight how we each provide for and protect those we love. Real people in real relationships were filmed fulfilling small but powerful moments of love captured in elegant, emotional black and white photography and complemented by the classic song “Love Me Tender,” says Lincoln Financial Group’s David Wozniak.
Why it worked: “In this marketplace, so few of our competitors have messaging that pulls at the heartstrings of consumers,” Wozniak explains. “What LFG has been able to do is flip the way that people view buying an insurance plan. It’s not just why you should have the plan, it’s who you are protecting when you buy one.”
Related: 12 of the best retirement TV ads
9. MetLife: Peanuts character series
Spot Title: Peanut campaign
First Aired: 1986
Ad Agency: Young and Rubicam
Synopsis: Linus stands on scale wondering why Snoopy (posing as a MetLife agent) is weighing and measuring him. Charles Brown explains that MetLife has always been concerned about health. He added MetLife publishes useful tables about the best weight for your height. As the commercial continues, Charlie Brown reveals that MetLife set aside $4 million to expand health education in schools. The ad ends with the famous slogan “Get Met. It Pays.”
Why the ads worked: Using the familiar Peanuts comic strip characters from creator Charles Schultz — Charlie Brown, Linus, Lucy and Snoopy — to sell financial products in a series of television commercials was a brilliant way for New York City-based MetLife to sell their services to American consumers who are typically nostalgic for their childhood memories.
Photo provided by GEICO.
Spot Title: “Caveman at the airport”
First Aired: September 12, 2006
Ad Agency: The Martin Agency
Directors: Will Speck and Josh Gordon
Synopsis: The cavemen concept was launched in a spot that aired in 2004 when a GEICO spokesperson/actor raved about GEICO.com being so easy a caveman could do it and offended a caveman that was working on the set. This spot is a continuation of the campaign that launched in 2006 and shows a caveman traveling through the airport and stopping in his tracks after seeing a GEICO ad featuring the line “So easy a caveman could do it.”
Why the ad worked: “Some of the best ads are great even with the sound off. This one lets the story slowly unfold with a strong visual punchline and the inevitable slow burn by our caveman. Add a great track by Royksopp, and it’s an effective piece of communication,” says Steve Bassett, senior vice president and Group Creative Director at the Martin Agency. The ad attracted over 1.6 million YouTube views.
Related: The 100 best marketing ideas
Photo provided by State Farm.
7. State Farm
Spot Title: “Hot Tub”
First Aired: May 26, 2010
Ad Agency: Translation
Director: Renny Maslow
Synopsis: A group of friends sits in a living room when the window breaks suddenly. Luckily, one of them is insured by State Farm, and sings the magic State Farm jingle to make his agent appear. He encourages his friends to try it, too. One man asks for a sandwich, the other asks for the girl from 4E and a hot tub. This spot was a viral sensation that became so popular, it eventually spawned an extended cut and a “Hot Tub remix.” The ad made such an impact that it’s still inspiring Reddit threads and amateur parodies, six years later.
Why the ad worked: “’Hot Tub’ was one of the first commercials to show a brand like State Farm presenting a real understanding of the way young adult minds work. We didn’t have to make a joke about the brand. Instead, we were able to show the confidence that comes with knowing you’ve got a State Farm agent on your side, while still inserting a very funny joke in the context of this silly conversation. The spot was a viral sensation that immediately spawned dozens of parodies, and which is still being talked about today,” says John McBride, Group Strategy Director at Translation.
Photo provided by Prudential.
Spot Title: “Stickers”
First aired: Super Bowl Sunday February 3, 2013
Ad Agency: Droga5
Director: Siri Bunford
Synopsis: “We created an experience to address America’s retirement income challenge in the face of increasing life expectancies,” says Prudential’s Colin McConnell. The company called on behavioral scientists to conduct an experiment with 400 people who’d gathered at an Austin, Texas park. They were asked one simple question: “What age is the oldest person you’ve known?” The largest number of stickers were around the 100 year mark.
Why the ad worked: “’Stickers’ capitalized on people-powered data visualization, not dry statistics, to reveal a truth and a challenge — that we’re living longer and need to prepare for it,” McConnell says. “The commercial was part of a larger, award-winning digital platform called ‘Challenge Lab: that explored many aspects of behavioral finance that impact the way people plan for their future.’”
“Mayhem Man” commercial screenshot is from the Allstate Insurance YouTube Channel.
5. Allstate: Mayhem Man series
Spot Title: Teenaged Girl in Pink SUV
First Aired: June 2011
Ad Agency: Leo Burnett Chicago
Director: Phil Morrison Morano
Synopsis: Actor Dean Winters poses as different characters involved in dangerous car and home accidents. In this particular installment, Mayhem Man is a teen girl who as she drives through a theatre parking lot smacks her car into a parked vehicle when she finds out via text that her best friend kissed a boy she likes. The teen girl hits and runs. Viewers hear actor Dennis Haysbert’s voice over “No one protects you from Mayhem like Allstate.”
Why the ad works: Nearly 2 million YouTube viewers watched the commercial and were reminded of how young drivers who respond to text messages while operating their vehicles can be involved in hit and run accidents and drive up insurance rates.
Can’t get enough Flo? You can view several of her commercials on the Progressive Insurance YouTube channel. (Photo: Wikipedia Commons)
4. Progressive: Flo campaign with Sonic the Hedgehog
Spot Title: “Sonic”
First Aired: 2012
Ad Agency: Arnold Worldwide Boston
Director: Jeffrey Fleisig
Synopsis: Progressive sales agent Flo and another worker watch with amazement as Sonic the Hedgehog runs around Progressive’s store looking for savings. Flo gets the video game character to slow down and explains Progressive can compare auto rates faster.
Why the ad works: This ad garnered over 2 million YouTube views. It appeals to a generation who love Sonic and know the frustration of trying to compare auto insurance rates solo.
Photo provided by Nationwide.
Spot Title: “One Up”
First Aired: March 2016
Ad Agency: McKinney
Director: Ruben Fleischer
Synopsis: A wife asks her husband if he has called their insurance company. He begs off, saying he is busy, while creating a mess in his home to avoid the call. The wife mirrors her husband’s procrastination by finding more ways to mess up their home. Finally, their neighbors see the commotion next door and are grateful that they feel comfortable calling Nationwide.
Why the ad works: This spot reinforces the notion that couples would rather create distractions than call an insurance agent. Their neighbors witness the messy antics from their window have a Nationwide policy and have no problems picking up the phone if needed.
In 1986, John Hancock’s “Jenny Katherine” commercial appealed to family-minded consumers. (Photo: Hill Holliday)
2. John Hancock: Real Life, Real Answers campaign
Spot Title: “Jenny Katherine”
First Aired: 1986
Ad Agency: Hill Holliday
Director: Joe Pytka
Synopsis: In a private moment, a father tells his sleeping infant daughter about his raise and all the things he can buy for her — a sand box, a bicycle, a diamond ring — before acknowledging he should “maybe put some of it away.” The spot shows his long term security needs for his family and to build investments.
Why the ad worked: Back in 1985, John Hancock was looking for a unique way to convey its high standards in the financial services industry, says Nancy Lehrer, senior vice president and account director at Hill Holliday in Boston. People were feeling very (or overly) confident about the economy and their future.
“Looking at the industry, which featured financial services companies touting expertise, performance or using sugar-coating metaphors, John Hancock and Hill Holliday realized a new direction was needed. John Hancock switched the lens off the company — and put it on the customer to reveal their underlying fears, hopes, worries, and aspirations. It was an unvarnished, honest look at life, and it was truly breakthrough for the category and the advertising industry. That advertising legacy has carried on ever since,” Lehrer says.
Related: 15 best insurance quotes of all time
1. American Family Insurance Company
Spot Title: “Dad Insurance ”
First Aired: June 2016
Ad Agency: BBDO New York
Director: Jamie Rafn
Synopsis: A young boy dreams of being a flamenco dancer. His hard-working dad knows his son’s passion but decides to give him judo lessons as a preventative measure against neighborhood bullies. The commercial shows the dad walking with his son to his defense classes. When the son finally earns a belt black in judo, the father surprises his son with a flamenco outfit.
Why the ad worked: Released around Father’s Day, the ad reminds parents and children of the many ways that parents can protect their children; insurance is one of those protections. The commercial attracted over 5.8 million YouTube views.
See also: 20 hilarious insurance memes
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