Insurance Advertising

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Hurricanes have a way of getting your attention. Being part of the Mid-Atlantic path of Sandy has made me aware of many things out of the normal course of daily business. Storms of all sorts are increasingly opportunities for local news stations to push weather expertise and project themselves as round-the-clock regional communications centers. The result is typically a lot of supermarkets benefiting from bread and milk sales and a lot of snow shovels and sidewalk salt sold at Lowes and Home Depot.

Erie Insurance and State Farm took to the air pre-Sandy promoting emergency preparedness.

Erie Insurance and State Farm took to the air pre-Sandy promoting emergency preparedness.

However, the potential for serious flooding, property damage, and power outages with Hurricane Sandy over such a wide path of the Eastern seaboard has upped the ante in many directions. Yesterday, a number of smart retailers like Wal-Mart and Office Depot had moved essentials to the front of their stores, including bottled water, flashlights, batteries, etc. Perhaps the only exception — portable generators are still tough to be had at a time like this.

Especially surprising were some smart radio commercials yesterday by two different major property/casualty insurance giants — State Farm and Erie Insurance. Both spots were direct, full of good preparatory advice, and reassurance that they would be there for policyholders. That is a solid message for corporations to send ahead of what will be a costly quarter for them as they help customers settle claims post hurricane. The media buy was expensive, but likely more than offset by the new customers they will gain from competitive property/casualty insurers who don’t treat their insureds well in the days ahead.

Travelers sent a safety email to customers in advance of Sandy.

Travelers sent a safety email to customers in advance of Sandy.

I wondered about my own company, Travelers, but found a similar message emailed to me, along with important details on storm preparedness and claim follow-up. This is a terrific use of a Customer Relationship Marketing database, and while it may seem like a no-brainer, it requires advance planning on the part of the insurance company’s marketing department, along with coordination with all the departments within the company to ensure accuracy of information.

One of the biggest concerns related to Sandy appears to be about loss of electricity from downed trees taking down transmission lines and water affecting the power grid. I had one unexpected level of assurance from my friend Steven Brush posting to Facebook on Sunday — he snapped a smartphone picture of electrical crew trucks traveling north from Alabama via I-95. Now, that’s emergency preparedness and much appreciated out-of-state assistance even before it is officially needed.

Power crews from Alabama already headed north in advance of Sandy.

Power crews from Alabama already headed north in advance of Sandy.

In the information age, all of us are getting better prepared to handle whatever nature throws our way, certainly following painful lessons learned during Katrina. And government, utilities, media, non-profit relief agencies, and businesses are getting smarter in helping citizens weather these storms.

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Progressive Star Flo (aka Stephanie Courtney)

Madison Avenue Walk of Fame Candidate, Flo (aka Stephanie Courtney)

A recent trip to the post office turned into a surprising advertising moment. The lady behind the counter was doing her own personal market research. She wondered if I knew who Flo was, because her husband had suggested she needed to be more like her (I think she was still concerned whether this was a good or bad thing). She went on to explain that Flo was the lady in the Progressive Insurance commercials, but she didn’t need to tell me. If postal employees are getting subliminal lessons about being upbeat, bubbly, and gregarious from Flo through their spouses, then Stephanie Courtney (the professional actress who plays Flo) and the casting director for Progressive Insurance’s agency have earned their compensation many times over.

For a nice profile on Stephanie (Flo) and many other current commercial favorites, look up Kate Ward’s Commercial Stars in the March 26 issue of Entertainment Weekly. My personal faves are Geneva Carr for AT&T as the humorously intense mother protecting her family’s unused wireless rollover minutes, Jim Annan and Matt McCarthy as the sparring rival installers in the Verizon FiOS spots, and Molly Culver who has great black and white chemistry with her husband having already spent their Chase Sapphire reward points on a new dress.

These actors may not have Oscars (or even feature roles) on their resumes yet, but their ability to connect with audiences in under 30 seconds is a testament to their talent. More importantly, each is a unique embodiment that underscores if you want to build a brand identity, you need professional talent at every step (great strategy, great writing, great art direction, great direction and production, and don’t ever forget great casting and great acting).

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