Monday, January 19, 2009

Adverse Selection: Bad Auto Insurance Commercials

I like to think I'm a pretty smart guy. I could be wrong, but that's what I like to think.

So when an ad confuses me, I take notice. And right now there is a series of ads for an auto insurance company that has me baffled. I don't understand the ads, I don't understand the concept, and I definitely don't understand what the folks who make them are thinking.

First of all, I see these ads about a kajillion times a day, especially on MSNBC. As I've said before, every CEO and his ad team should be forced to watch an ad two or three times an hour for a week before approving it, because that's how often we'll see it. And here's how you know the ads are sucktastic: After all these viewings I still don't know which insurance company they're for.

They depict an all-white sort of supermarket, an existential Nowhere, where people shop for auto insurance. It's like a supermarket in Heaven... except they're shopping for auto insurance so it must be Hell. Seriously, why would they use visuals so firmly associated with movies about death (Heaven Can Wait, After All, etc.) to sell their product?

This is reinforced in another ad where a bewildered man wanders around, having just had what he describes as a "fender-bender." If I ever had a fender-bender and then found myself in an all-white limbo, I'd be pretty sure it wasn't a fender-bender at all. And I'd also be shitting my pants.

But back to the supermarket version of the ad. A guy wanders through, and the loathsome cashier character finds out he saved over whatever-hundred dollars. So she gets all excited and hits a button and then gets on her P.A. mic and announces the savings. Kind of like what happens when you're the one millionth customer or something.

Except here's the problem: no one else reacts. There are no balloons. No celebration. The other employees much be thinking, "Just crazy Joanie or Sophie or whatever, screaming into her microphone again."

Then there's the version where the guy buys motorcycle insurance and yacht insurance and jet ski insurance and whatever, and his wife says, "We don't have those." And the guy says, "Yes, we do."


I'm no ad expert, but maybe a better response might be, "Sure, we don't now, but with the money we're saving..." It's corny, but at least it makes sense.

But instead we're thrust into a baffling marital drama unlike any in real life, where the husband is concealing a whole other life of pricey consumerism from his wife, but still shops for insurance in her presence.


Incidentally, this insurance company apparently does something really, really cool: they give you rates from their competitors. That's worth bragging about. But the commercial that highlights that instead veers off into some weird exchange about earrings and name tags. Besides, the two actresses in that ad seem to have a bet going as to which can slather on the overacting more. (Nametag chick wins.)

Still, I'd take a lifetime of these ads over anything featuring a caveman or a cockney lizard. And at least they're not openly offensive, like the car insurance ads where a hidden camera catches a cab driver with a thick accent being told to drive downtown and to LAX, or a dry cleaner with a thick accent being told starch and no starch.

I guess the point is supposed to be about freedom of choice, but instead it comes off as intentionally befuddling people for whom English is a second language. The "joke" comes from their inability to understand what is being said to them, and their frustration at not being able to make themselves understood. Not so funny.


norm said...

I've seen those ads too...and for the life of me, I don't know which company they're advertising either.

In fact I never really paid any attention to any of them except the guy who insists he has the motorcycle and boat and stuff. For some reason, it seemed to me he was trying to impress the insurance lady and was trying to shush his wife, almost as if to say, "Shhh honey, can't you see I'm trying to impress this chick here? C'mon, you're really cramping my style."

Either way...I agree the ads don't work.
Even though we're talking about them, we don't know what they're for and we're only mildly befuddled by them, so we're not going to check into it.
We'll just eventually forget about them.

Uc1l3l3k said...

nice blog.. keep posting...:p

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