As a branding and marketing professional, I really enjoy seeing how advertising has evolved over the years. Gone are the days of boring, ho-hum advertising campaigns. With modern technology such as DVRs, consumers no longer have to sit through commercials, if they don’t want to. Through the widespread reach of the Internet and social media platforms such as YouTube and Facebook, not to mention the ever popular, highly anticipated and super expensive Super Bowl commercials, advertising campaigns have had to become more creative and fun to catch the attention of their target consumers. Now more than ever, I find that, not only are people not fast forwarding through commercials, but they are looking forward to when their favorites air, so they can share them with others. At least that’s how it is in the Quinn household!
Quite some time ago, I wrote about The Most Notable, and Sometimes Creepy, Restaurant Mascots, Characters, and Personalities. So, this time I thought I’d focus on a different type of Brand Mascot, aka real people, and highlight the top five advertising personalities within the insurance service industry. Not only are these brand personalities played by real people, but they have storylines that are so funny and memorable that you often hear people talking about them with their friends. Again, I know we do in my family.
So, without further ado, here are my choices for some of the most creative, memorable and often downright comedic insurance company brand personalities, both old and new.
1. Geico’s Cavemen (2004 – 2010)
The Geico Cavemen may no longer be on the air, but they are one of my favorites. As far as creativity goes, these commercials were just brilliant. Here you have Neanderthal-like Cavemen who have “Historically struggled to adapt” trying to live in the modern world. These cavemen are intelligent, have their own homes, social lives and careers. The commercials took you through their inability to cope with Geico’s “offensive” use of the slogan, “So Easy a Caveman Can Do It.”
Originally created in 2004, by Joe Lawson and Noel Ritter while working at The Martin Agency, the first three GEICO commercials to feature cavemen were “Apartment“, “Apology“, and “Boom Mic“. Some of my favorites are “Apology” where I’m sure you remember, “I’ll have the Roast Duck with the Mango Salsa.” and “Airport” where even though no words are spoken, his demeanor says it all! And of course, there’s the Television News Interview where the anchor asks the Caveman, “How can it be offensive if it’s true? Historically you guys have struggled to adapt.” To where the caveman responded in an exasperated tone, “Yeah, right! Walking upright, discovering fire, inventing the wheel, laying the foundation for all mankind. You’re right. Good point. Sorry, we couldn’t get that to you sooner!”
The Geico Cavemen were so popular, that they spawned a TV series called Cavemen. The show, however, did not get the same reception that the commercials did and the series was canceled after less than 6 weeks.
2. Progressive®’s Flo (2008 to Present)
Flo from Progressive was created by the Boston-based agency Arnold Worldwide by copywriter John Park and art director Steve Reepmeyer. The character is portrayed by Actress Stephanie Courtney and made her debut in 2008 and is still going strong today. She is recognized by her extreme enthusiasm, prominent name tag, sparkling white uniform, an upbeat personality, and a retro hairstyle.
Although Flo works with many different characters in the Progressive commercials, the one I like most is her interactions with Jamie, who is played by Jim Cashman. In many of the commercials, Flo takes on a Big Sister type role to Jamie, such as Sprinkles are for Winners. But one of the funniest commercials with Flo and Jamie is “Prank Protection,” which first aired in October 2016. I love it when Jamie says, “That’s what you get for bundling Home and Auto Insurance.”
Flo became so popular over the years, that in November 2014, Progressive aired its 100th Flo ad with the introduction of Flo’s other family members which included her mother, father, brother, sister, and grandfather. All of the characters were also played by Stephanie Courtney. The ad was designed to build a deeper connection to the character, by tapping into a relatable and familiar moment of familial relationships. The ad was designed to build a deeper connection to the character, tap into a relatable moment and showcase the campaign’s range, which often includes improvisation and supporting characters.
From a Branding standpoint, this campaign is brilliant. Over the year’s Flo’s character has developed from her humble beginnings as a Cashier, into a Motivator, Mentor, Love Interest, Protector, and Prankster. By creating a reality-based icon, that is recognizable, relatable and approachable, the character became so popular that in 2011, Flo was named #1 brand icon by EW.com, and a Flo Halloween costume became the #1 selling costume on Amazon.
3. Farmers Insurance Prof. Nathaniel Burke of University of Farmers (2010 to Present)
Farmers Insurance Professor Nathaniel Burke of the University of Farmers is played by Actor J.K. Simmons. The ad campaign takes place in the fictional University’s Hall of Claims. Most of these commercials begin with Professor Burke walking through the Hall with a potential client “At Farmer’s, we’ve seen almost everything so we know how to cover almost anything. Even a…” After we see the “story” we are taken back to the Hall where the professor points at a statue, wall plaque or display commemorating the event and says, “Talk to Farmers. We know a thing or two, cause we’ve seen a thing or two.”
Some of my favorites in the series are Mer-Mutts, Swing Set Standoff, and Truck-cycle. But most notably, I especially love the new 50th Anniversary Sesame Street Farmers Insurance ads featuring the Sesame Street Puppets. Grover is just hilarious! “Meee? Cause an accident?… Maybe.”
4. Allstate®’s Mayhem (2010 – hopefully forever)
First launched in June of 2010, Allstate’s Mayhem, played by actor Dean Winters was created by the ad agency, Leo Burnett Chicago. The campaign is loosely based on the character Mr. White from the 1992 Quentin Tarantino film Reservoir Dogs. The campaign was developed in response to being ranked 4th in advertising spending behind Geico, State Farm, and Progressive. This campaign came on the heels of the “Our Stand” campaign featuring Dennis Haysbert, who happens to be the featured voice at the end of every Mayhem commercial as well. And by mid-2011, Allstate had won around 80 industry awards for the campaign.
The ads all follow a similar formula. Each ad starts with Mayhem stating what risk he is, such as, “I’m a Racoon living in your attic.“, “I’m a hot babe out jogging.“, “I’m your GPS.“, “I’m a teenage girl.“, “I’m a Car thief.“, and one of the newest ads is “I’m a tailgater tailgating to get to my tailgate.” Mayhem then shows what could happen as a result of these risks, then ends each commercial with some version of “And if you’ve cut-rate insurance, you could be paying for this yourself. So get Allstate and be better protected from Mayhem… Like Me!”
Unlike other insurance commercials that show the risk itself, you just can’t help by want to see what happens with Mayhem himself being the risk in each new commercial. Not only are these commercials funny, but they are also highly relatable. They cover everyday risks that many of us have likely fell victim to in a hilarious and memorable way. When you watch a Mayhem commercial, you can’t help but laugh and cringe while also making a mental “note to self”, all at the same time.
5. Gabe Gabriel from State Farm® (late 2018 to Present)
One of the newest ad campaigns from State Farm was created by the full-service ad agency, Doyle Dane Bernbach (DBD) and Creative Directors Katie Bero and Brian Culp. Because “State Farm is all about personal service, and their agents are the literal embodiment of that.” this campaign focuses on the State Farm agent with a twist.
The ads feature David Haydn-Jones, as Gabe Gabriel, the insecure and highly jealous Sports Agent of Green Bay Quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Beginning with the first commercial, Two Agents, it is clearly evident that Gabe has an ongoing, self-inflicted, and tumultuous relationship with his perceived Arch Rival, and real-life State Farm Agent, Patrick Minnis,.
In Season 2: Agent v. Agent, Gabe brings in his second client, “My New Homey, Patrick Mahomes” to try and make Aaron jealous, while at the same time Patrick starts toying with Gabe at the same time.
Unlike the typical insurance company commercials, in these ads, State Farm agents very simply state what State Farm has to offer. But by adding the storyline of a jealous and insecure Sports Agent who seemingly is going off the deep end, played by an incredibly talented and believable actor, the ads are engaging, lighthearted and fun.
Honorable Mention: Jake from State Farm (2011 – 2015)
Jake from State Farm is played by actor Jake Stone. Although this character is a minor character with only this one commercial in total credited to this Brand Personality, the sheer brilliance of this ad campaign has made it so memorable. If you haven’t seen or heard of the “Jake from State Farm” commercial titled “State of Unrest” then you have got to check it out.
In the commercial, a husband is on the phone at 3:00 am. His wife walks down the steps behind him to hear him say in what could be misconstrued as a rather seductive voice, “Yeah, I’m married. Does it matter? You’d do that for me? Really? I’d like that!” To which his wife angrily says, “Who are you talking to?” and he replies, “It’s Jake, from State Farm.” The wife then snatches the phone out of her husband’s hand and says, “Jake from State Farm? At 3 in the Morning? Who is this? What are you wearing, [air quotes] Jake, from State Farm?
His only part in the entire commercial consists of 2 1/2 seconds of air time and two spoken words. In response to the wife’s question, he says, “Ahhh, Khakis?” What makes this commercial so brilliant and so memorable is the sheer fact that all of us have, at some time in our lives, had things we’ve said and done misinterpreted and taken the wrong way. If you have ever had a jealous partner at any point in time in your life, as we know at least in adolescence, many of us have had, then this scenario is so believable that it hits a home run! And although it’s been off the air for nearly five years now, I still occasionally hear mention of it. In fact, last year, my son even named one of his fantasy football teams “Jake from State Farm!”