5 top human brand mascots in the insurance industry are strokes of IP genius
“Yeah, right! Walking upright, discovering fire, inventing the wheel, laying the foundation for all mankind. You’re right. Good point. Sorry we couldn’t get that to you sooner!”
—The Geico caveman
BY RENEE C. QUINN
As a branding and marketing professional, I enjoy seeing how advertising has evolved over the years. Gone are the days of boring, ho-hum advertising campaigns.
With modern technology such as DVRs, consumers no longer have to sit through commercials. Through the widespread reach of internet and social media platforms such as YouTube and Facebook, not to mention the highly anticipated and super-expensive Super Bowl commercials, advertising campaigns have had to become more creative and fun to catch the attention of their target consumers.
I find that not only are people not fast-forwarding through commercials, they are looking forward to when their favorites air.
I once wrote about The “Most Notable, and Sometimes Creepy, Restaurant Mascots, Characters, and Personalities.” So this time I thought I’d focus on a different type of brand mascot—real people—and highlight the top five trademarked advertising personalities within the insurance service industry. They have storylines that are so funny and memorable, you often hear people talking about them with their friends.
1. Geico’s cavemen (2004–2010)
No longer on the air, the Geico cavemen commercials were brilliant in terms of creativity. Here you have Neanderthal-like cavemen trying to live in the modern world.
These cavemen are intelligent and have their own homes, social lives and careers. The commercials took you through their inability to cope with Geico’s “offensive” use of the slogan “So easy a caveman can do it.”
Originally created in 2004 by Joe Lawson and Noel Ritter while working at The Martin Agency, the first three Geico commercials to feature cavemen were “Apartment,” “Apology” and “Boom Mic.”
“Apology” features the line, “I’ll have the roast duck with the mango salsa.” In “Airport,” no words are spoken; we see a caveman on a moving walkway who sees a sign with the hated “So easy” slogan. His demeanor says it all.
And of course, there’s the television news interview in which the anchor asks the caveman, “How can (the slogan) be offensive if it’s true? Historically, you guys have struggled to adapt.”
To which the caveman responds in an exasperated tone: “Yeah, right! Walking upright, discovering fire, inventing the wheel, laying the foundation for all mankind. You’re right. Good point. Sorry we couldn’t get that to you sooner!”
The Geico cavemen were so popular, they spawned a TV series, “Cavemen.” Alas, the series was canceled after less than 6 weeks.
2. Progressive®’s Flo (2008 to present)
Flo from Progressive was created by the Boston-based agency Arnold Worldwide, via copywriter John Park and art director Steve Reepmeyer.
The character, portrayed by actress Stephanie Courtney, debuted in 2008. She is recognized by her extreme enthusiasm, prominent nametag, sparkling white uniform, upbeat personality and retro hairstyle.
Flo became so popular through the years that in November 2014, Progressive aired its 100th Flo ad with the introduction of her other family members—which included her mother, father, brother, sister, and grandfather. All of the characters were also played by Courtney.
The ad was designed to build a deeper connection to the character, tap into a relatable moment and showcase the campaign’s range. , which often includes improvisation and supporting characters.
From a branding standpoint, this campaign is brilliant.
Flo’s character has developed from her humble beginnings as a cashier, into a motivator, mentor, love interest, protector and prankster. A character that is recognizable, relatable and approachable, Flo in 2011 was named the No. 1 brand icon by EW.com. A Flo Halloween costume became the top-selling costume on Amazon.
3. Farmers Insurance professor Nathaniel Burke of University of Farmers (2010 to present)
Farmers Insurance professor Nathaniel Burke of the University of Farmers is played by actor J.K. Simmons. The ad campaign takes place in the fictional University’s Hall of Claims.
Most of these commercials begin with Professor Burke walking through the Hall with a potential client: “At Farmers, we’ve seen almost everything, so we know how to cover almost anything. Even a…”
After we see the story, we are taken back to the Hall where the professor points at a statue, wall plaque or display commemorating the event and says: “Talk to Farmers. We know a thing or two, ’cause we’ve seen a thing or two.”
4. Allstate®’s Mayhem (2010 – hopefully forever)
Launched in June 2010, Allstate’s Mayhem, played by actor Dean Winters, was created by ad agency Leo Burnett in Chicago.
The campaign is loosely based on the character Mr. White from the 1992 Quentin Tarantino film “Reservoir Dogs.” It was developed in response to being ranked fourth in advertising spending behind Geico, State Farm and Progressive.
This campaign came on the heels of the “Our Stand” campaign featuring Dennis Haysbert, who happens to be the featured voice at the end of every Mayhem commercial as well. And by mid-2011, Allstate had won some 80 industry awards for the campaign.
The ads all follow a similar formula. Each one starts with Mayhem stating what risk he is—such as, “I’m a racoon living in your attic”; “I’m a hot babe out jogging”; “I’m your GPS”; “I’m a teenage girl”; “I’m a car thief”—and one of the newest is, “I’m a tailgater tailgating to get to my tailgate.”
Mayhem then shows what could happen as a result of these risks, ending each commercial with some version of “And if you’ve got cut-rate insurance, you could be paying for this yourself. So get Allstate and be better protected from Mayhem … like me!”
Unlike other insurance commercials that show the risk itself, you can’t help but want to see what happens with Mayhem himself being the risk in each new commercial.
Not only are these commercials funny, they are also highly relatable. They cover everyday risks that many of us have likely fell victim to, only in a hilarious and memorable way. When you watch a Mayhem commercial, you can’t help but laugh and cringe while making a mental “note to self” at the same time.
5. Gabe Gabriel from State Farm® (late 2018 to present)
One of the newest ad campaigns from State Farm was created by the full-service ad agency Doyle Dane Bernbach (DBD) and creative directors Katie Bero and Brian Culp. This campaign focuses on the State Farm agent with a twist.
The ads feature David Haydn-Jones as Gabe Gabriel, the insecure and highly jealous sports agent for Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Beginning with the first commercial, “Two Agents,” it is clearly evident that Gabriel has an ongoing, self-inflicted and tumultuous relationship with his perceived rival and real-life State Farm agent Patrick Minnis.
In “Season 2: Agent v. Agent,” Gabriel brings in his second client, “My New Homey, Patrick Mahomes,” to make Rodgers jealous while Mahomes starts toying with Gabriel at the same time.
Unlike typical insurance company commercials, in these ads State Farm agents simply state what the company has to offer. But by adding the storyline of a jealous and insecure sports agent who seemingly is going off the deep end, the ads are engaging, lighthearted and fun.
Honorable Mention: Jake from State Farm (2011–2015)
Jake from State Farm may have only been in one commercial (a second version of the same commercial included the Coneheads from “Saturday Night Live”), but I think he deserves an honorable mention.
Jake from State Farm is played by actor Jake Stone. Although this is a minor character with only this one commercial credited to this brand personality, the sheer brilliance of this ad campaign has made it memorable. If you haven’t seen or heard of the “Jake from State Farm” commercial titled “State of Unrest,” check it out. In the commercial, a husband is on the phone at 3 a.m. His wife walks down the steps behind him to hear him say in what could be misconstrued as a rather seductive voice, “Yeah, I’m married. Does it matter? You’d do that for me? Really? I’d like that!”
To which his wife angrily says, “Who are you talking to?”
He replies, “It’s Jake, from State Farm.” The wife snatches the phone out of her husband’s hand and says, “Jake from State Farm? At 3 in the morning? Who is this? What are you wearing, (air quotes) Jake from State Farm?”
His only part in the commercial consists of 2 1/2 seconds of air time and two spoken words. In response to the wife’s question He says, “Ahhh, khakis?”
What makes this commercial so brilliant and memorable is that all of us have at some time in our lives had things we’ve said and done misinterpreted and taken the wrong way. If you have ever had a jealous partner, this scenario is so believable that it hits a home run.
Although the commercial has been off the air for nearly five years, I still occasionally hear mention of it. In fact, last year my son named one of his fantasy football teams “Jake from State Farm.”