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