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Published on September 14, 2021

The View from my Seat

Car insurance TV ads entertain to catch your attention

By Ernie Williamson / The Bulletin

A survey by a group called PolicyGenius found that half of all Americans can’t define the word “deductible.”

Given the fact we are bombarded by insurance industry television commercials, I found that startling.

But it turns out that the insurance industry has decided that commercials on claims, coverages, collisions and deductibles don’t help sell their products.

So, the industry, with its high-powered ad agencies, has turned away from informational ads in favor of zany commercials filled with jingles and catchphrases. And they are getting zanier all the time.

I suspect most of us know more about “Flo,” “Mayhem” and “Jack with the khakis“ than we know about our insurance policies. These characters have become part of our pop culture.

Taking advantage of the fact that the average American spends more than four hours a day watching television, the insurance industry spends about $5 billion a year on advertising.

GEICO, Progressive and State Farm took the top three spots in 2019 by spending $1.62 billion, $1.02 billion and $627 billion, respectively, on advertising.

It was GEICO that upended the nature of insurance industry advertising.

GEICO had been using the slogan “15 minutes can save you 15 percent” as far back as the 1990s, urging people to pick up the telephone and call for price quotes.

The Internet made that model more efficient, with quick quotes online, helping establish insurance sold by price, not by agents. Brand image, in that environment, became key.

Enter GEICO’s gecko.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the famous green gecko was partly the product of an accident. It enlisted the character in 1999 to help consumers remember the company’s name.

The gecko was only supposed to be used for one ad, but an actors’ strike forced GEICO to keep using it. Fans began to email and call about him. Profits climbed.

Then in 2004, GEICO introduced the brilliant cavemen campaign that became so popular they made a short-lived television series out of it.

Who can forget the ad of the tennis-racket-carrying caveman walking through the airport and spotting a GEICO billboard with the words “So easy a caveman can do it.” The caveman walks away in disgust.

GEICO is now the second largest television advertiser in the United States after Proctor & Gamble.
GEICO’s rivals were forced to respond and now, 15 years later, we are inundated with Flo for Progressive, Jake at State Farm, Mayhem at Allstate, LiMu Emu and Doug at Liberty Mutual and the tweed-wearing University of Farmers professor.

I admit it. I am old and out of touch with pop culture and what today passes for humor. But I find these most recent insurance commercials silly. In trying to outdo one another, the insurance companies are producing ads that are more irritating than entertaining.

For example, there is the Liberty Mutual “wet teddy bears” commercial. It is so bad I had to check online with iSpot.tv to get an explanation.

Here’s the explanation:

A street vendor featured in the ad knows that not everybody wants the same thing, and he applies that knowledge to his business. Similarly. he chose Liberty Mutual Insurance because he only has to pay for what he needs.

It is not until a hungry customer arrives that we discover what the vendor’s thoughts on getting individual care mean. Rather than selling hot dogs as others do, he’s chosen to sell wet teddy bears.
Really? Am I missing something?

Give me the cavemen back.

(Ernie Williamson welcomes reader input. Please contact Ernie at williamsonernie@gmail.com. Or, send letters in care of The Bulletin, PO Box 2426, Angleton, TX. 77516)