Home > TV > Insurance ad wars – part 1

Insurance ad wars – part 1

Years ago, in a much simpler time, the world was rocked by a conflict pitting two forces against one another in a no-holds-barred fight to the death.  Everyone chose sides, pitting brother against brother in a struggle that redefined how we looked at our society – and ourselves.  I’m speaking, of course, of the Cola Wars.

In the 1980s, for some reason, Coco Cola and Pepsi decided to spend about a kajillion dollars to try to sway about a dozen consumers in one direction or another.  Seriously, has anyone ever changed allegiances on a soft drink based on the fact that Cindy Crawford or Michael Jackson did an ad for one brand or another?

Regardless, the ads were usually engaging enough to hold our interest, and it was definitely a memorable set of commercials.I use this as a preface to my rant today about the new advertising war – and this time it’s for your insurance dollar.  Granted, the newer guys like Geico, Progressive and AFLAC and the traditional firms like State Farm and Allstate have never been shy about advertising.  It just seems that they’ve kicked it up a notch in the last year.

For example, in a 30-minute sitcom yesterday, I counted eight (EIGHT!) 30-second ads for insurance in that time. At one point, there were two State Farm ads followed by a Progressive ads. They’ve usurped consumer goods and cars as the biggest advertisers I see on a daily basis. Naturally, that has my brain starting to compare and contrast each ad. Because familiarity breeds contempt, if not purchases.

Here’s my breakdown of the campaigns that I see most frequently.

Allstate “Mayhem” ads – They’ve gone from having Dennis Haysbert (or, as I will always call him, Pedro Cerrano) lecture us about our car insurance to the Mayhem ads.

  • The gimmick: Dean Winters acts out crazy things that could happen to your car, and how you wouldn’t be covered with cut-rate car insurance (read: Geico).  Bonus points for making it a guy best known from Oz and 30 Rock (Liz Lemon’s beeper salesman ex-boyfriend).
  • The highpoint: The Mayhem guy as a GPS unit, screaming “Recalculating” and sending a driver down the wrong path, leading to a crash.  Winters is great in this one.
  • The lowpoint: The Mayhem guy is a flag that flies off a car and falls on the car behind him, leading to a crash.  The ad isn’t that bad, but the unfathomable “Do Not Attempt” disclaimer at the bottom is ridiculous. Oh, so I’m not supposed to hold on to a flag pole attached to a car and then let go and slam into a car behind me? Gotcha.
  • Effectiveness: 7 out of 10.  Allstate is getting the point across much better than when Haysbert just preached at us.  Plus, the ads have a similar drumbeat, regardless of the crazy situation.  Pretty solid.

Farmers Insurance “Farmers University” ads – JK Simmons (Schillinger from Oz or Juno’s dad… take your pick) takes Farmers Insurance agents around some simulated insurance disasters and talks about how Farmers makes things easier… or something.

  • The gimmick: A well-known “That guy” character actor shows how some things can be covered with Farmers vs. the others.  But, there’s no breakout character or theme here.
  • The highpoint: If you’re me, you scream out “Juno’s dad!” followed by “Yikes, Schillinger is selling insurance?”  It took until the second or third viewing before I actually figured out what he was selling.
  • The lowpoint: Pretty much everything else.  By comparison, this one isn’t all that impressive. I can’t tell you much about why I would choose Farmers.  They have a very weak gimmick, and by signing a semi-famous face, I’m not sure what they were going for with the ad. Either get a star or find a damn gimmick.
  • Effectiveness: 3 out of 10.  I like Simmons, but the concept and writing are pretty awful.

Geico ads (numerous) – While some companies will have a single spokesperson or theme throughout a campaign.  Geico said to hell with that. First there was the Caveman, then the Gecko, the guy asking rhetorical questions, the cash with googly eyes, “I’ve got good news,” R. Lee Ermey as a therapist yelling at patient, etc.  Man, what’s their f*cking ad budget??

  • The gimmick: 15 minutes can save you 15 percent. Or so easy a caveman can do it. Or, so painfully obvious that you have no reason not to do it.
  • The highpoint: This wasn’t my cup of tea, but the Caveman ads really crossed the chasm into mainstream America.  I mean, it became a sitcom.  A horrible, short-lived sitcom, but that’s something that not even Mr. Whipple could do. Thankfully.
  • The lowpoint: I’m hard-pressed to find a real clunker, but there have been numerous “meh” moments. I think the Gecko has run its course, and the last few have just been very monotonous. Oh, so he somehow carries a cell phone and a wallet?  That’s crazy!!!, he says sarcastically.
  • Effectiveness: 9 out of 10.  Just as a B-52 carpet-bombing North Vietnam was effective, the Geico shock-and-awe strategy is just impressive.  And, they have saturated the market with many funny, memorable ads.

OK, I’ll have more to come… we’re at 800 words already, and I have a few more in the chamber.  Hang tight…

Categories: TV
  1. Skipper
    January 17, 2011 at 5:33 pm

    How is it that you didn’t cover Flo from Progressive!??!

    • sweetmonkeypie
      January 18, 2011 at 2:27 pm

      It’s coming… I have about three more to write about…

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