THE BEST SELLERS’ LIST- Insurance can be funny… thanks to these icons

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By Thomas Sellers Jr.

In 2017 some familiar faces popped back up my TV screen in medical garb.
Actors Patrick Dempsey, Donald Faison, Neil Patrick Harris, and Kate Walsh reprise their famous medical drama or comedy roles as “TV Doctors of America” for Cigna. It was another successful humor advertising campaign.
In recent years insurance companies have used jokes, goofy premises and outrageous situations to draw in interest. Seeing those classic characters mocking themselves in the name of awareness for a serious issue hit the target audience.
Before this new trend insurance ads mostly gave us an portrait of a textbook happy family with a soft voiceover providing assurance that all works out for those with insurance.
Then in 1999 a pioneer emerged in the insurance commercial game, the GEICO Gecko. Created by the Martin Agency to promote the GEICO name, the gimmick help consumers remember the insurance company’s name.
Before GEICO collaborated with Martin Agency, it had a 2 percent market share and was only the eighth-largest auto insurer in the United States. Fast forward to now, GEICO is the second largest auto insurer, behind only State Farm.
With success like that, several insurance companies are now using mascots to connect with viewers. The trend has not gone unnoticed here at The Best Sellers’ List. I’m here to pay tribute to the guru, the GEICO Gecko. And I will mention other pioneers like Erin Esurance (Esurance), Snoopy (MetLife), The General (General), World’s Greatest Spokesperson (Nationwide) and the Duck (Aflac). Below here are the best 10 of the genre.

  1. Flo (Progressive)
    Debuting in 2008, Flo is a fictional salesperson character appearing in more than 100 advertisements for Progressive. Portrayed by actress and comedian Stephanie Courtney, Flo is the face of the insurer and is the leader of the group sporting white uniforms with the blue Progressive logo. She was created by Arnold Worldwide and has many good commercials.
    Her leadership is so good, other characters have spun off to become well-known characters.
  2. Prof. Daniel Burke (Farmers)
    About 7 years ago, JK Simmons took on the persona of Professor Burke and has been in more than 60 commercials. Professor Burke has become a figure in Farmers commercials teaching people why it is so important to have insurance just in case crazy things happen. And trust him, Burke and Farmers knows because they covered all of them.
    The early commercials we created in partnership with the ad agency, RPA, featured professor Burke leading a group of agents around the University of Farmers to demonstrate Farmers knowledge of insurance. With the seasoned delivery of veteran actor Simmons, the spots and his character took off sending Farmers’ number through the roof.
    Some of Simmons credits are playing Benny South-street in the 1992 Broadway Revival of Guys and Dolls and can be heard on the cast recording. He did a commercial voice-over work, including the voice of the yellow M&M in the candy’s TV ads. He’s appeared in Law & Order, Law & Order SVU, and Law & Order Criminal intent. As of 2011 he has made five films with director Sam Raimi; For Love of the Game (1999); The Gift (2000); Spider-Man (2002); Spider-Man 2 (2004); and Spider-Man 3 (2007).
  3. Jake (State Farm)
    Wait a minute, Jake is black now?
    Jake from State Farm is a character in a massively popular commercial for State Farm Insurance. Jake was the punchline caught in the middle of a late-night discussion for a couple with the husband on the phone with customer service . When the original Jake delivered the line “Uh, khakis,” an icon was born.
    Back in 2011, the company hit the jackpot with their “Jake from State Farm” commercial, featuring an actual agent who worked for the insurance provider at the time.
    Fast forward to 2020, the spot was brought back with a twist. When it is time for the camera to break away to the State Farm office, Jake is now a black man. He is now known as Jake 2.0. Jake is State Farm’s answer to the GEICO Gecko and Progressive’s Flo. He is doing more than wearing khakis now. He’s our good neighbor.
  4. Celebrities
    (Direct Auto)
    Are you a bad driver? Do you have a less than perfect driving history?
    Well, Direct Auto Insurance is your company to help you get back on the road with insurance. Why do I know this? Celebrities like rapper Fat Joe, former figure skater Tonya Harding and NFL reject Johnny Manziel told me.
    Direct Auto Insurance decided to feature celebrities in an ad campaign who have faced their own challenging issues over the years. Controversial figures from the past who have overcome financial issues like Fat Joe, dealt with being kicked out over several football leagues like Manziel or had a public embarrassment like Harding are ideal to sell this point.
    The commercials used a tongue-in-cheek approach from the celebrities to convey the message to the public, we all deserve a second chance in life.
  5. Allstate Guy (Allstate)
    He’s portrayed military leaders, a FBI agent and even a Major League Baseball player. But actor Dennis Dexter Haysbert is none for his signature voice guiding us through Allstate Insurance advertisements. Since 2003, Haysbert has appeared as the official spokesman for the Allstate Insurance Company.
    He is the voice of the line “Are you in good hands?”
    Haysbert is a double threat in his commercials. You might be treated to an ad with his voice coming out of a little white girl or an elderly woman giving sound advice. Then he will get in front of the camera to be a part of real-world situations and other people deliver the information he has taught us for 17 years.
  6. LiMu Emu & Doug (Liberty)
    The “Buddy-Cop” genre has finally come to the ranks of the insurance world with LiMu Emu and Doug. In recent years, the duo has starred in the Liberty Mutual Insurance’s new ad campaign.  The duo appear in new spots to spread word that Liberty Mutual customizes coverage so you’ll only pay for what you need.
    With a 1970s style singing intro, you know Doug (David Hoffman) is going to spring into action with LiMu not too far behind. The emu gets a lot of the credit while not seeming to do as much work as Doug. But Doug is loyal to his partner in helping get the word out to the public about the powers of Liberty.
    The creative content was developed by Goodby Silverstein & Partners (GS&P), Liberty Mutual’s creative agency of record. They hit a home run with the duo and have become just a popular as the “Liberty, Liberty, Liberty” jingle.
  7. The Box (Progressive)
    He can run an insurance company, handle vlogs to get information to the public and even sing a little. He’s the Progressive Box. The Progressive Box is a character from the Progressive Insurance commercials that was voiced by Memphis native Chris Parnell.
    Back in 2012, the Box became a part of the Progressive advertising campaign. It was slapstick comedy with a Box interacting with humans. But the Box was going to let us know about “the discounts that we need.”
    I would have order the “box” set of his greatest hits. The Progressive Box was just refreshing and easily grabs your attention when flipping through the channels.
  8. Jamie (Progressive)
    It’s a challenge to steal the scene from Flo in a commercial. But actor Jim Cashman cashed in as Jamie in Progressive ads. Jamie has been a vital part of the Progressive team since 2014 in television and radio commercials.
    Jamie has appeared in more than 40 commercials and has been the butt of jokes, the unofficial leader and the contrast to Flo. Through it all, Jamie is consistently funny and a scene stealer. From Zoom to company parties, Jamie is easily the focus. Cashman has become an insurance commercial legend.
  9. Cavemen (GEICO)
    Two reason the Gecko didn’t make the top 10 are it easily faded in the background and was cheesy. But GEICO struck gold in 2004 with the “It’s so easy, a caveman could do it,” campaign. The GEICO Cavemen are trademarked characters of the auto insurance company. They even had a short-lived TV series.
    The Martin Agency’s Joe Lawson and Noel Ritter are the geniuses behind this campaign. According to an episode of the public radio show 99% Invisible, “It’s so easy a caveman could do it” was first coined by Ritter.
    The concept of the commercial is bringing Neanderthale to the modern world. They are an ethnic group overlooked by society and taken for granted. When you get a moment, go to Youtube and search GEICO commercials “Apartment,” “Apology,” and “Boom Mic.” Enjoy the laughs.
  10. Mayhem (Allstate)
    He’s been furniture, a ball of yarn and various animals. To keep down confusion, call him Mayhem. Created by Leo Burnett for Worldwide, the Allstate mascot is the absolute best in the industry. Actor Dean Winters does a masterful job bringing Mayhem to life. His smudge face, cold delivery and matter-of-fact movements is perfect for the dark, sinister character.
    Burnett pitched the character to Allstate as “Mr. Mayhem”, comparing him to the character Mr. White from the 1992 film Reservoir Dogs played by Harvey Keitel. Mayhem has been played by Dean Winters since the campaign was launched in April 2010.
    Mayhem is a simple formula for the commercial. In his black suit and tie, Mayhem enters the picture and identifies the risk he is portraying. He gives context into the situation and hints at an impending disaster that he will cause. Then disaster breaks loose and you understand why you need Allstate. Because Mayhem is everywhere. His best series of ads came in early 2018 featuring Mayhem with New Year’s resolutions. Mayhem is still out there.
    While all the others on this list have a shelf life, Mayhem can stick around forever. That’s why we need insurance in the first place.
    THOMAS SELLERS JR. is the editor of The Millington Star and both the sports editor and a weekly personal columnist for West 10 Media. Contact him by phone at (901) 433-9138, by fax to (901) 529-7687 and by email to thomas.sellers@journalinc.com.

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