Why we love to love insurance spokescharacters

Gina Roberts-Grey

If you’re crushing on Progressive’s Flo or Allstate’s Mayhem, you’re not alone. Millions of Americans relate to the lovably quirky endorsers who star in insurance commercials.

And it’s their relatability, down-to-earth personas and coolness that insurers and ad executives bank on to sell car insurance and other types of insurance.

According to data compiled by E-Poll Market Research, Americans relate to insurance spokescharacters more than other commercial pitchmen and characters, like Burger King's "king" and Travelocity's Roaming Gnome.

On average, E-Poll’s data show consumers are 2 percent more aware of insurance spokescharacters than other industries’ pitchmen and characters. Insurance pitchmen also are 1 percent more appealing than other pitchmen and characters.  

The most appealing insurance spokescharacters, according to E-Poll, and their five most notable traits are:  

1. Allstate’s Mayhem – Funny, cool, annoying, believable, down-to-earth.

2. GEICO Gecko – Funny, cool, down-to-earth, approachable, annoying.

3. Progressive’s Flo – Funny, approachable, down-to-earth, annoying, sincere.

4. Professor Burke (Farmers) – Down-to-earth, funny, approachable, believable, talented.

5. Aflac's duck – Funny, annoying, cool, approachable, influential.

6. The Messenger (GEICO) – Funny, annoying, cool, down-to-earth, approachable.

7. The World’s Greatest Spokesperson in the World (Nationwide) – Annoying, funny, approachable, down-to-earth, sincere.

8. GEICO Cavemen – Funny, annoying, down-to-earth, cool, approachable.

9. Erin Esurance – Annoying, attractive, cool, approachable, down-to-earth.

Friendly faces

Tom Denari, president of Young & Laramore, the Indianapolis advertising agency behind Farm Bureau Insurance’s “Stop Knocking on Wood” campaign, says characters have been used to pitch products and services for decades. “Characters and spokespeople are designed to solve a particular communications issue or to reinforce a particular message and create continuity from ad to ad,” Denari says.

GEICO’s Gecko and Aflac’s duck both were created a decade or so ago to help consumers remember — and pronounce — oddly spelled acronyms, Denari says. They’re also brand ambassadors that help humanize a company. “Flo was created to give Progressive a human face and a friendlier, service-oriented retail sensibility,” Denari says.

Furthermore, many consumers don’t like to think about insurance, so these characters take the edge off. 

“Not wanting to think about the product being advertised is probably more important for insurance than it is for many other industries because insurance is a product no one wants to buy,” says Bruce Clark, associate professor of marketing at Northeastern University in Boston.

Insurance can be scary, and consumers want some assurance that their insurance company will "take care" of them. But Flo’s mannerisms and kindness make insurance a little less scary. “These ads are all about saying 'trust us,' because a TV ad can’t convey the complexity of the product,” says Nancy Irwin, a psychologist in Los Angeles.

And consumers often don’t understand the product.

“In our own work, we're noticing there is still a lot of confusion among consumers about their own policies and what they cover. That confusion is giving rise to new advertising characters and campaigns from challenger brands like Farmer's 'University of Farmers' and Farm Bureau's 'Table of Truth' looking to gain market share,” Denari says.  

Irwin adds: “Insurance is also an invisible product. We don’t bring it home and put it away like you do groceries, clothes or a new car. That’s why a charming character sort of takes the sting out of our need, and allows us to buy what we don't want, but know we must have.”

Keeping your wits about you

Irwin says we’re often sucked in by these lovable characters because they're innocent. “We would rather trust this adorable character than a realistic human being. Another human reminds us we may need the insurance, and that is rarely exciting or appealing, she says.

Despite their cute or entertaining qualities, it’s wise to keep your wits about you so you don’t get sucked into a policy that you’re not happy with. To do that, Irwin suggests a few strategies to get past the sales pitches.

“Appreciate the fun adorableness of the ad, yet 'crawl' behind it and see what the appeal really is all about. Are you drawn to the character because they remind you of a friend or former or college roommate? Or because they actually have information you want or need?” Irwin says.

Finally, get down to the real business at hand: Finding the best car insurance for you. Instead of taking the word of fictional characters, seek out the advice and experiences of real people, like insurance agents, relatives and friends. 

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