What’s so funny about insurance?

It used to be that insurance commercials were created to convey one thing above all else — a feeling of total security and warm fuzziness that Company X was going to be there for you after your house blew up or your car got flattened by a rampaging elephant. Ad campaigns from agencies like Nationwide, State Farm, and Allstate were full of sensible people making sensible decisions. The slogans drove this theme home even more succinctly: Nationwide was on your side, you were in good hands with Allstate, and so on.

But somewhere along the way things changed and insurance companies decided to start getting a bit cutesy with their ads. The Aflac Duck (voiced by the unlikely pitchman Gilbert Gottfried) debuted nationally in 1999, while local companies such as Chicago-based Eagle Insurance had even started their bizarre “Eagle Man” campaign six years earlier.

But Geico raised the stakes forever with one humorous, well-received campaign after another. The Geico Gecko (originally voiced by Kelsey Grammar) debuted in 1999. Some of the more memorable ads to follow the Gecko were the TV show parodies (loved “Tiny House”) and the slew of celebrity cameos (Tony Little says, “You can do it!”). In 2004 the Geico Cavemen debuted, and it’s still one of my favorite campaigns to this day.

So thanks to companies like Aflac and Geico, it seems like every damn insurance company has to have a whimsical campaign of some sort. Most of them fail pretty miserably. Let’s take a look at some current ones, shall we?

Geico — Rhetorical questions

This series, featuring actor Mike McGlone channeling his inner Robert Stack, seems to be getting the most play for Geico these days. Like the best Geico ads, they’re very simple but very surreal at the same time. The hit-to-miss ratio on these is very high, with some of the best featuring Charlie Daniels, R. Lee Ermey, honest Abe Lincoln, and an enthusiastic piggy crying “wee wee wee” all the way home. My current favorite answers the age-old question concerning woodchucks and their propensity to chuck wood.

Progressive Insurance — Flo

Progressive first came to my attention several years ago with a rather dry campaign touting their willingness to research competitors’ car insurance rates against theirs. I can’t be the only one bored to tears with those ads, so in 2008 we met Flo (Stephanie Courtney). Flo is an impossibly cheery insurance salesperson/Wal-Mart greeter. I found her retro vibe to be kind of cute at first, but now I waver between ambivalence and mild irritation at her ads. Maybe I’m just a curmudgeon.

How’s this for a mind-blower. Flo (well, Stephanie) had a bit part on an episode of the short-lived Cavemen ABC TV show, which itself was based off the Geico Cavemen. Don’t believe me? Check it:

Farmers Insurance Group — We Are Farmers

This is a relatively recent campaign, and it needs to go away yesterday. These ads all have the stink of a company trying way too hard to be clever. Not even Spider-Man’s boss can save these from “WTF?” territory.

Your ads suck ass, bum ba dum bum bum bum bum!

Allstate — Mayhem

After years of ads featuring the president from 24 (Dennis Haysbert), Allstate decided to add a little mayhem to their advertising. So last year they introduced a series of ads starring actor Dean Winters, playing (you guessed it) Mayhem. This is actually a really well-conceived campaign. They’re funny, of course, but not pointless. The focus is still on insurance and not just on trying to craft some surreal scene and hope people associate it with a service.

Esurance — Techies & Feelies

As much as I hated the pointless Erin Esurance commercials, at least they stood out from the pack. Sure, they never really explained what their Flash-animated spy tart had to do with auto insurance, but they were visually striking and crafted a unique brand identity. Last summer Esurance largely ditched Erin and unveiled new ads featuring real, down-to-earth employees just havin’ a swell time helping customers.


State Farm – “Magic Jingle”

The “Like a Good Neighbor, State Farm Is There” jingle has been around for years, but it’s recently been re-purposed for these unfortunate ads apparently aimed at the twenty-something slacker/hispter set.

Someone’s gonna have to explain this to me, because it sure looks like State Farm is advocating insurance fraud. How else does a broken window turn into a free hot tub?

I do like the little MIDI version of the jingle at the end of these spots. Sounds like something from an old Nintendo game.

Nationwide — The World’s Greatest Spokesperson in the World

Ugh. I knew as soon as this campaign debuted last year I knew it was going to suck. Nationwide devoted an entire 60 seconds to an ad just to introduce this character, who apparently had retired to a mountain existence. I really with he had stayed that way.

I lump these spots in with Farmers, in that they just reek of trying too hard. And if there’s one thing I hate, it’s trying.

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