Who you got in the insurance spokesperson final four?

March 5, 2014

A billion dollars is all it takes to remind folks what they can save in 15 minutes

  POSTAGE  by Rob Stamp

It’s March, so you’ll have to excuse me for this random act of madness. If you can’t have a little fun with anything associated with insurance, I understand completely and perhaps it’s best you click elsewhere now. For the sake of this particular discussion, I simply wanted to loosely create a tournament bracket pitting insurance company spokesmen, spokeswomen and spokesthings against one another and – in the words of Doyle Hargraves — see how one begats another.

Our Final Four has the cast of characters you’d expect: The gecko advancing from the Animal Regional; Peanuts from the Cartoon bracket; Flo from the At-Large Regional; and my personal favorite, Mayhem, representing the Good Hands bracket.

Laugh if you will, but it was stiff competition. My buddy, Mayhem, had to withstand a stern challenge in a raucous regional final from Dennis Haysbert, the colored dude with the magnanimous voice. (Fun fact: Haysbert played flaky first baseman Pedro Cerrano in “Major League.”) I stand at attention when the captivating Haysbert talks, but I laugh aloud as Mayhem shows us what it’s like being at the epicenter of a really bizarre insurance claim. Mayhem’s the satellite dish that falls off your roof and totals a car. Mayhem’s a streaker leading pursuit from the gridiron into gridlock. Mayhem’s the family dog too distracted to sound an intruder alert. Mayhem’s the banner that cuts loose from the tailgate load, causing, ahem, mayhem on the highway behind. Mayhem’s the teenager on the riding mower oblivious to the fact that he’s blasting out every window on the property with all the debris he’s carelessly running over and cluelessly launching. Actor Dean Winters has nailed the role for Allstate, don’t you think?

Nobody spends on insurance advertising the way GEICO does, shelling out over a billion – with a B – dollars in 2012 alone. Does anybody think GEICO bought any fewer impressions last year? I didn’t think so. The familiar gecko with the Cockney accent debuted in 1999 (originally voiced by Kelsey Grammer) and continues to be the company torch bearer as other GEICO campaigns come and go. The Cave Men series was compelling enough that it spawned a network TV sitcom, albeit one that failed miserably to attract any measurable ratings and got abruptly cancelled. To this day, I can’t tell if it was funny or sad when Brian Orakpo’s hurtful words turned a friendly game of Scrabble into a broken date for the highly-anticipated pancake social. Currently running on a parallel track to the gecko is Maxwell the pig, who created an indelible first impression flying a pinwheel and wee-wee-weeing all the way home during his carpool ride home. Maxwell’s shown up since on a zip line, on the Jumbrotron at a Redskins game, and relaxing poolside on vacation. Can anyone tell me how in the world he’s able to navigate his smartphone with those hooves?

Among those unable to advance through the Animal bracket were the annoying AFLAC duck, the majestic Hartford stag and the cleverly resourceful dog from the Travelers spots. Snoopy, who for decades has emblazoned blimps hovering over major sporting events, was slotted into the Cartoon Regional with the rest of the Peanuts cast. I thought MetLife knocked it out of the park when Charlie Brown and Lucy insisted as part of a focus group that life insurance should only cost five cents. The General (whom Al Hrabosky looks like more and more with every season) defeated Erin Esurance in a regional semifinal that matched brawn against beauty, military-like precision against made-up sexuality.

Flo has probably outlived her projected shelf life of what, four or five years? Nobody, and I mean nobody, has that much enthusiasm for insurance. Perky? Check. Drop-dead gorgeous? Hardly. Recognizable? You bet. They created an enduring image that Progressive dares not to abandon. Don’t know about you, but I thought that was kind of cool how Progressive went back to Flo in grade school to show where it all began for her over-the-top personality. Where it ends is anybody’s guess at this point. For the record, Flo is played by Stephanie Courtney, an actress you may have seen in “Blades of Glory” or in the 2009 remake of “The Heartbreak Kid.”

For the first time, Flo drew a hearty challenge in the At-Large Regional from Farmers spokesman Prof. Nathaniel Burke. I absolutely love the University of Farmers campaign with all its realistic sets, quirky scenarios and fabulous stunts, but was afraid to alienate our female customer base by not unilaterally advancing Flo to the Final Four.

Pools that had Chris Paul and his twin from State Farm going very far were victims of the biggest upset in the tournament. Ed McMahon, who pitched Colonial Penn nonstop to the masses in the 1990s, was considered dead and given no chance in a first-round matchup with State Farm until resurrecting himself with a late comeback that bought the Farm a ticket home. Joe Torre once represented State Farm and his stay in the tournament was as shortlived as his reign as Dodger manager. Does anybody remember when Perry Mason himself, Raymond Burr, was the spokesman for the Independent Insurance Agent? To further date myself, I recall Safeco years ago using the Pink Panther, quite a departure from Marty and Edna featured in the current Do More campaign.

Looking down the road, I wonder how much mileage Nationwide will get from PGA Tour star Bill Haas. It won’t bother me if Nationwide brings back the broad with the hot body demonstrating how replacement-cost coverage works following a home burglary. Fresh off his Super Bowl triumph, Seahawks QB Russell Wilson is quickly becoming the face and voice for American Family. And, speaking of voiceovers, has anyone else noticed that Liberty Mutual’s Humans campaign is read by the likeable Paul Giamatti?

With four companies alone each spending in excess of $600 million annually on advertising, the insurance industry is in the midst of a full-court press for consumer awareness. Ad agency creatives are showing there are many ways to skin this particular cat, and you can’t swing a dead one very long before seeing another commercial for GEICO, Allstate, State Farm or Progressive.

Madness indeed.