Is it the gecko?
In 1999, Geico introduced Martin, its talking reptile mascot. Why?
Apparently as a memory device — the word gecko helps prospects for property-and-casualty insurance remember Geico’s unremarkable name. (And Martin was readily available during the Screen Actors Guild strike of that year.)
Counter-intuitively, Geico introduced additional characters. Its cavemen promote the simplicity of switching insurance companies (“so easy a caveman could do it”). Its stack of money with googly eyes represents “the money you could have saved.”
In contrast, Allstate makes due with just one spokesman. In 2003, 24 actor Dennis Haysbert and his deep authoritative voice began appearing in its ads.
Progressive’s quirky cashier Flo first appeared in 2008. She is played by actress Stephanie Courtney. Some find Flo endearing; some irritating.
Recently Nationwide claims to best them all with its introduction during the 2010 Winter Olympics of “the world’s greatest spokesperson in the world.” The character is played by actor-comedian Bob Wiltfong with a blue phone strapped to his body.
Perhaps the longest running insurance company spokes-character, not counting Prudential’s rock, Travelers’ red umbrella or The Hartford’s stag, is Snoopy, who has been peddling for MetLife since 1985. (The well-known Aflac duck hawks health insurance, not p&c.)
Does the spokes-character strategy work? In the p&c insurance category, it seems intended primarily to attract attention. Beyond that, the amount of actual brand-building it accomplishes is questionable.
P&c insurance is clearly a commodity. Most of the competitors sell on price alone. Example: Geico, which ranks seventh in market share with 3.2%, claims, “15 minutes can save you 15 percent or more on car insurance.” No. 8 Nationwide and no. 9 Progressive make similar promises.
Interestingly, State Farm, which does not employ a character or spokesperson, is the market share leader with 10%.
However, the strategy of no. 4 Allstate (5.4% share) stands apart from the rest. Eschewing the popular comedic approach, Allstate’s messages center on intangible differences, such as trust and peace of mind. As discussed in a recent post, intangibles are the more sustainable competitive advantages.
The economic downturn has diminished the value of most consumers’ assets as well as the confidence in the institutions that protect them. Challenged to remain relevant, most of the p&c players focus on saving us money. Allstate, instead, addresses our fears with messages of hope, recovery, and reassurance. With comforting gravitas, Dennis Haysbert asks, “Are you in good hands?” Given what most of us have been through, it’s a question that resonates.
Source for market share information: National Association of Insurance Commissioners