If you think the competition for the Republican presidential nomination is fierce, take a look at the fight for your homeowners and auto insurance dollars. Five leading brands have taken the same path to earning your brand preference by creating fictional spokespersons that combine their sales pitch with varying degrees of humor and warm reassurance. Let’s look at the candidates and then you can vote for a favorite, if you care to.
The elder statesman of our group, of course, is the glib GEICO gecko, the charming animation with the British accent. He keeps chugging along with various sidekicks such as the Caveman, Kash, and other campaign derivations. This lizard-led band of unlikely henchmen continues to drive home the message of “15 minutes can save you 15 percent or more on your car insurance.” Recently, GEICO started pushing homeowners insurance as well. GEICO’s gecko must be part Energizer Bunny, because he just keeps going and going.
Nationwide’s “World’s Greatest Spokesman in the World” character was introduced about three years ago and leads this bunch in goofiness. The redundancy of his title certainly alerts us to expect tongue-in-cheek parody, but sometimes he seems just plain corny. Wearing a blue phone strapped to his chest like a bandolier and waving a microphone, the WGSW pushes discounts and options for Nationwide products with what I would call, um, mildly infectious enthusiasm.
Farmer’s Insurance is the newest contender in this heavyweight division of brand characters, weighing in with their spots featuring the University of Farmers (a real place) represented by the fictional Professor Burke, played by actor J.K. Simmons of Law and Order fame. (If you knew his name before you read this, I’ll buy you a Coke.) The campaign takes a different tact by emphasizing the training their agents receive from the tough yet likable mentor. The campaign is relatively new and while interesting, Dr. Burke is literally up against some pretty tough characters.
Such as Flo, from Progressive Insurance. The bubbly brunette is the chief clerk of an imaginary insurance store with unending shelves of insurance products that look a lot like software packaging. Flo is insanely enthusiastic about her company’s products and how affordable they are. And even though no one in real life is this happy, Flo keeps her dark side to herself as she charmingly wrangles all manner of customers and even an occasional competitor found wandering the aisles of her store.
Which brings me to my favorite, Allstate’s Mayhem, a laconic character who is somewhere between devilish and Satan himself, and who humorously puts worry in your mind by showing you just how easily you can screw up or get whacked by someone else who screwed up. Taking a page from the GEICO playbook by running multiple campaigns, Allstate has positioned Mayhem as a foil to the dulcet-toned Dennis Haysbert, their spokesman since 2004. “I’m your blind spot. I’m a hot babe out jogging. I’m your team’s flag. I’m your satellite dish.” These are just some of the iterations of Mayhem’s catalog of accidents waiting to happen.
He is surly and mocking as he says “recalculating” after acting as a GPS unit and directing a driver into a crash. But it’s your fault, he explains, because you didn’t update his maps. He’s a total jerk and yet somehow you gotta love this guy. He embodies the unexpected and just for laughs we get the slapstick of him falling off a roof or flying through the air and smacking into another car’s windshield. No one but Mayhem ever gets hurt in these commercials, even though deep down, we all know it could be worse.
Mayhem’s payoff is that he causes these accidents and then sows the seeds of doubt, even taking a shot at GEICO in the GPS spot, by saying, “your 15 minute insurance may not pay for all this.” It’s a brilliant example of portraying the negative side of insurance without actual fear mongering. And because Allstate manages to walk the fine line of throwing a bit of a scare into us while still being reassuring, I’m casting my vote for Mayhem as Best Character in a Major Insurance Company Campaign.
Oh, what I wouldn’t give to see these five characters in a cage match, but their brands fight it out in 30-second spots only. If you’d like to cast a vote for any one of these five, or nominate your own, visit https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/TVcharacters and we’ll let you know the results in a later column. And, please, take care.