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Snoopy, loved as friend, lacking as leader, gets boot at MetLife

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When MetLife Inc. was looking for a lovable face in the 1980s to appeal to individual customers, the cartoon character Snoopy was just the right beagle. Now that the company is exiting the U.S. retail market and focusing on group coverage in the country, it’s time for a change.

“We have a lot of affection for Snoopy,” Chief Marketing Officer Esther Lee said in a phone interview Thursday. “He’s rated very high as a good friend and on approachability. Where he didn’t rate as high is things like, as a leader, keeps promises, is a good adviser.”

The largest U.S. life insurer announced Thursday that it will phase out the use of Snoopy and Peanuts characters in its marketing. It also unveiled a new tagline, “MetLife. Navigating life together,” in what the New York-based company called the most significant change to its brand in three decades. The insurer also rolled out its new logo, featuring a green and blue letter M.

Chief Executive Officer Steve Kandarian has been rethinking the 148-year-old company’s business model, and will increasingly bet in the U.S. on insurance sold through employers, like dental and disability coverage. He is also pursuing growth in Asia and Latin America. Kandarian announced a plan this month to spin off the U.S. retail business.

‘More Approachable’

Lee said the insurer started researching the Snoopy relationship when she joined the company in 2015 from AT&T Inc. The company, which features the character on blimps at sporting events, conducted surveys and even asked people how they’d feel if MetLife dropped the iconic dog. Many were indifferent, Lee said.

The decades ago, “the industry back then was seen as really cold and distant, and when we actually hired the Peanuts characters to represent the brand, it was a way to become friendlier and more approachable, so it made a lot of sense,” Lee said. “He really served his purpose at the right time when he was launched, and now the question is how do we find an expression of the brand that’s more in keeping with the company we’re becoming.”

Other insurers retain animal mascots to stand out as they pitch sometimes complicated products. Aflac Inc. is known for its talking duck, and the Geico unit at Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. sells auto policies through a witty gecko.

Iconix Brand Group Inc., which in 2010 acquired a majority stake in the Peanuts characters, listed MetLife first in a passage of key Snoopy partners in its most recent annual report. Lee said MetLife enlisted the help of Prophet, a marketing and brand agency, to help drum up ideas for the new logo. She credited Prophet’s Craig Stout with his help in crafting the new logo.

Iconix slipped 1.5 percent to $7.84 at 10:53 a.m. in New York trading. MetLife dropped 1.1 percent to $46.35.

See also:

Snoopy Re-Ups With MetLife

The 10 most memorable insurance ads ever

MetLife shelves 148-year-old U.S. retail brand for ‘Brighthouse’

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