Personalities of brand personality

February 10, 2011

“Insurance is sold, it’s not bought,” the old adage goes. That seems even truer today with the spate of insurance TV advertising dominated by an ever wider growing cast of sales spokespeople representing different property and casualty insurance companies.

Auto insurance is pretty much a commodity, with price and service getting the spotlight. And because service is delivered by actual insurance company employees, it makes strategic sense for insurance companies to each use their own “real” pitch person to give their brand some personality.

Celebrities have been a mainstay of advertising endorsements for decades. But the recent crop of insurance commercials has spawned so many personalities, the question is, just how differentiating and effective is that practice when it comes to branding?

First there are the B or C-list actors. For years Dennis Haysbert, who was cast as the first African American president on the TV drama “24” has been the sole spokesperson for Allstate. His confident yet soothing voice conveys just the right demeanor for an insurance company. And there are others, including obscure soap opera star Eddie Matos for State Farm; J.K. Simmons, the fictional father from the movie Juno and “The Closer” star, pitches for Farmers; and yet another Allstate character, Mr. Mayhem, is played by Dean Winters from 30 Rock.

Then there are those invented brand characters: The World’s Most Famous Spokesperson from Nationwide, Frank “The Saver” from Esurance and Flo, the insurance store clerk from Progressive.

The real test is whether viewers will remember which personality belongs to which brand. As with any well-managed brand, the key is consistency. Two of the best are Allstate and Progressive. Dennis Haysbert always stands alone, looks directly into the camera and asks, the Allstate brand promise, “Are you in good hands?” As quirky as she might seem, Flo always appears in a white apron, red lipstick and a blue headband. Her environment is always gleaming white with blue accents — reminiscent of the Progressive logo.

Do the personalities really represent the brand personality? Or are they just advertising shills?

Advertising and branding can sometime be at odds with each other. But the best ads are the ones based on a solid brand platform. One that clearly defines the brand’s personality. That way, the advertising agency can cast the right personality to speak for the brand.

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