Something very strange is going on in the insurance industry lately. For an example of what I mean, let's take a look at a Farmer's Insurance ad from about two years ago:
I mean, okay, it's sort of boring. It's straightforward, it maybe gets a little too much into financial jargon... but ultimately the main point is clear and sincere. Farmer's has been around for a long time, we don't play games with your coverage, etc.
Now here's a Farmer's ad from their most recent vintage:
What in the hell is happening here? Can you make hide or hair of it? Because I cannot. The commercial implies that you can buy insurance to cover your accident after the fact, which I'm almost positive is sort of the opposite of how insurance works. Then there's all the goofy details in the ad - "bait shop," "tulip poplar," that dopey singing at the end - which all just scream "Look at us! We are modern and hilarious!" Sure, it's a less boring ad than its older counterpart, but at what cost? We're talking about insurance here, not light beer or candy. Does it need to be sold with this kind of a pitch?
But it's not just Farmer's. Oh, not by a long shot. You'll remember, of course, the awful State Farm ads which started some months ago (and were taken on by this blog right here) and are still running. But that's hardly it.
That's a Nationwide ad from about four years ago. It's already in the "trying to be funny" range, as all those "Life comes at you fast" ads were - remember the Kevin Federline one? - but in a pretty clear, innocuous way. Not so anymore.
Is the point of this commercial to make me want to die? Because it does. Ooh, maybe before I walk into traffic I can buy some life insurance from Nationwide! I mean Nationpam. That's just funny right there.
What is this obsessive need to have a goofy character gimmick? "The World's Greatest Spokesperson in the World?" First of all, that's a pretty direct ripoff of like ten other things. Even if it weren't, it is not inherently funny, and that guy's over-the-top smarminess is not drawing me towards Nationwide. This particular iteration of the gimmick is even worse because it isn't really saying anything - while other ads in the series at least talk about services that Nationwide offers, like "vanishing deductible," this ad just takes on online insurance companies with a vague, unsupportable promise that Nationwide won't treat you like a number. And then the guy sings obnoxiously in a way that suggests that Nationwide, like State Farm before them, has fallen hopelessly in love with their own jingle.
Even Esurance - a sufficiently nouveau company that you might just have expected this kind of ad from them in the first place - has gone from the relatively direct Erin Esurance animated ads to, well, this:
Esurance is apparently trying to skirt the kind of attack Nationwide was directing at their ilk by pointing out that you can have "Technology when you want it, people when you don't." But for some reason they have to do this by inventing an obnoxious agent who insists on being known as "The Saver" and a series of not-much-less obnoxious coworkers who like to point out that you save exactly as much money by just using the Esurance website. It's like the insurance equivalent of those "Cash/credit same price" signs you see at gas stations, except much more aggravating. The only thing I really take from these Esurance ads is that the Esurance offices look like a really annoying place to work.
Progressive, meanwhile, has been running the same Flo ads for a couple years now, so I can't accuse them of a very recent lurch into painful gimmickry. I can, however, point out that the commercials are getting harder and harder to watch.
I kind of like the way she says "Still not sure," but I hate the rest of it SO MUCH that it really doesn't matter because I almost never see that part anymore. Why is this supposed to be funny? Because some old guy is saying silly words? This tells us nothing about Progressive that we haven't learned from 85 other spots of theirs, so that suggests to me that this one was created because someone specifically thought this guy's lines were hilarious. Guess what? They were wrong. And I'd say that maybe the ad was trying to market to old people except it's kind of making fun of them, so I'm not sure how well that would work.
There are other insurance companies I haven't touched on. Allstate's "Mayhem" ads are more sober than most of the ones above, even as they milk a specific gimmick for all it's worth. Geico is still running goofy ads that barely mention their product half the time, but it's Geico - if you're expecting anything else from them, come on. 21st Century Insurance has been running ads that very directly, with just a smidge of humor, point out how you can get the exact same coverage as other companies but for a good deal less.
As I said above... we're talking about insurance here. Why are we suddenly seeing nearly every company go in for the same inane pitch - or in many cases lack thereof - that characterizes most beer commercials? It could be that Geico's recent expansion has encouraged other companies to try and follow their style, but don't you think that Geico's rates and/or service really have at least as much to do with it as the gecko or the cavemen? Geico also advertises a lot and will have multiple campaigns running at once - currently they have at least two, the gecko and the rhetorical questions, running nationally. I feel like if you do that, it almost doesn't matter what your ads look like. And wouldn't it make more sense to pitch in a clearer, more sensible way? Are we really so far down the rabbit hole that even the most adult-oriented, non-impulse-buy product like insurance has to try to have ads that teenagers will laugh at?
I mean, when you want insurance, I'm sure you want to save money, but you also want it from a reputable source, right? Do most of these ads reassure you about the quality of coverage you'd be getting? No, and that's rarely even the focus, which I find insane. The Farmer's and State Farm ones both present you with an utterly warped and inaccurate picture of how insurance works; the rest rarely have much to say beyond "We're less expensive!" The bizarre thing is that it's not really that hard to focus on both cost and features, is it? Think about the average McDonald's ad, say. You might see an ad where they talk about how a hamburger is only 99 cents, but in that same ad they will likely also promote something else about the hamburger, like its taste. Now think about the Progressive ad, which implies a low price but spends too much time having an old guy bark out nonsense to really address anything related to the actual insurance.
Isn't this ironic? Insurance, of all things, seems like a product where I would not want to make my decision just on cost. If my choice is between a McDonald's and a Burger King hamburger, I can feel pretty safe just going with the cheaper one (assuming my goal is saving money). If my choice is between two insurance companies, I might want to take a closer look at the fine print, no? This is kind of a big decision - if I ever do get into an accident, don't I want to know what kind of coverage I have? Instead, when it comes to their commercials, most of the insurance companies want to distract you with shiny things as part of a grating race to the bottom.