The insurance market

By Tom Dougherty

“Insurance companies— get away from the gecko and Flo, and move into something real.”

Insurance rebranding. An Insurance Market Study.

insurance rebranding

The insurance industry follows the leader

Our experience with insurance rebranding began when ProAssurance, a medical liability insurance company, came to us for help.

We found that it’s a category perceived as dishonest.

Qualitative and quantitative research said physicians are driven by emotion, not worn-out insurance tactics. “Aggressive defense” was not important or emotional. (See work we did for ProAssurance here.)

We created a position for ProAssurance aligned with the physicians’ desire to be treated fairly because physicians deal with issues of fairness every day.  And they are enraged when they aren’t treated fairly.

For this insurance rebranding project, we started with choices in the market. We could not find insurance brands with strong emotional drivers. The advertising is trite. Themes center on extremes and just the category benefits of being insured. Nobody gives a damn.

insurance rebranding

Mostly garbage

Insurance rebranding and marketing is either silly or serious. All are only about lowering your costs or protection. Not switching triggers.

Insured doctors believe their current company has reasonable rates and good protection coverage. That why they picked them.

Nobody switches for things you already have.

Here, we examine the marketing of the auto, health and homeowners insurance leaders.

Identifying those campaigns that have real emotional heart. And we will make fun of those idiots who are meaningless.

Auto Insurance Rebranding

The brand channel has noted that the “U.S. auto insurance brands spent $5.7 billion on marketing last year in the U.S., nearly double what they spent just five years earlier.” In fact, Geico spent more than a billion dollars by itself alone in 2015.

Brand channel noted, “But they’re not getting as much bang for their buck as they did a couple of years ago.”

No shit. Boy, do these guys need insurance rebranding

Who wants to switch auto insurance companies? It is a pain in the ass to switch. You only switch if there is a problem (no matter who is to blame). Companies give consumers no REAL reason to choose.

What they spend is stupid. And they spend lots. That’s why the market has not moved despite all the advertising dollars.

Many of the market leaders like GEICO and Progressive have only gained a tiny bit of market share. Despite the constant frequency and promising the cheapest insurance.

They spend a ton of money and not on insurance rebranding

These companies spend billions of dollars on campaigns that are just not emotional. Entertainment can work if you have low awareness. But who doesn’t know GEICO or Progressive? And the spots aren’t all that entertaining.

Each stopped growing per this insurance market study. Both are treading water with NO sign of growth.

Here’s why.


Matt Damon said in an episode of 30 Rock:

“Why does GEICO have three different spokesmen?” Damon asked Tina Fey, the show’s leading lady.

Damon: “They have got the gecko, the caveman, and the stack of money with the eyeballs.”

Fey: “And the fake Rod Serling guy.”

30 Rock has it right. What the hell is GEICO trying to say?

Look at this



The Gallagher references are not emotional.  They are an inside joke for those old farts who remember his act.

Fifteen minutes will save you money won’t get you to switch either.  All insurance companies say they will save you money.

Trying to make it funny isn’t emotional. Humor hides the message, even if it’s meaningful. All viewers remember is the humor.


GEICO is the king of bland messages. A sucky search for market share.

It tries everything, but nothing works. GEICO doesn’t get what’s important: Messages that are different and better than everyone else. Where is the emotional hook that makes consumers care?

GEICO is not alone. Insurance rebranding needs more meaning than just 15% savings.


Like GEICO, Progressive tries to be funny. It isn’t working. It needs quick insurance rebranding.

GEICO would claim it uses so many characters to keep the ads fresh. Progressive’s character, Flo, is worn out. Who cares about her? It is an association but of no value.

Progressive has become GEICO-lite with the same message about the cost in the hilarious Flo story.


Health Pro recently reported that: “Progressive has Flo. She is … not great at explaining why people might need insurance, but she is great at conveying the message that Progressive has the flexibility to meet customers’ needs. My 9-year-old daughter looks for Flo commercials the way she looks for new episodes of iCarly. There might be some consumers who will have a warm place in their heart for Progressive in the 2070s, or even the 2100s, thanks to Flo.”

Quite an endorsement

Wow. A ringing endorsement. What is Health Pro talking about? Does Flo represent the customer? (Or, in this case, the customer is a 9-year-old.). No wonder the category stinks.

Progressive has a unique, stark white look. No mistaking the ads for anyone else’s. But who would want to be them?

Like GEICO, they represent an ad agency masturbating. No idea how to steal market share.


Quoting, “Allstate [has] been stuck with the task of shaking the perception of being ‘expensive and serious.’ Allstate has tried to overcome this notion by launching its ‘Mayhem’ advertising campaign in May 2010 and by beefing up its marketing budget by more than half between 2009 and 2010.”

No insurance market study can ignore pricing. GEICO and Progressive capitalize on price. They oversaturate the market so the message doesn’t click. No emotion either.

Allstate recognizes price as a loser’s game. They sell protection.


There are a few problems here. It is edgy and unique with emotional fear. But “protection against mayhem” plays only as humor. No one is scared. It’s a skit about someone else with a stupid character in the lead.

The results suck too. Its CEO resigned (instead of the board insisting on insurance rebranding) and its property-liability insurance premiums have been flat.

The theme of protection demonstrates that, outside of edgy and funny, there’s no reason to choose.


Insurance Rebranding. Health Insurance

“A healthcare organization’s brand,” according to Business Exchange, “is more critical than ever. This can mainly be attributed to the complex and highly competitive nature of the industry. Awareness with a strong identity and messaging is a good start. But apart from basic marketing, successful branding goes a lot further. It must start from inside a healthcare organization’s core.”

But it’s not just a logo, marketing message, and tone.

It is those things, but a brand also defines the company culture. That way, the company fulfills the brand promise.

Economy Watch also reported: “Marketing health insurance is one of the most difficult jobs in insurance marketing. This is because of the perpetual conflict between the insurance companies which want to make a profit and the insured person who wants to get as much compensation as possible from the insurance company.”

What we are saying is it’s a balance, Market values that are more important to consumers than price. The Affordable Care Act is demanding insurance rebranding in this category.

Blue Cross/Blue Shield


BCBS of Illinois has developed an advertising campaign that is both meaningful and memorable. Because it is about the customer (the home video footage of families that demonstrates who the customer of BCBS of Illinois is), not the company.

It has a compelling soundtrack and unique delivery.

And it confuses the message.

The imagery suggests the switching trigger is taking care of the family. That could be emotional but all it says is that BCBS of Illinois has been around a long time.

There are nostalgic elements of the spot but who cares how long it has been around? What matters is what does it mean to me.

The national campaign does better.

It is annoying, with a tricky vibe. But it describes who the customer is.  Active, happy, and a goofball.

The “health of us all” is a message that works for both the customer and the company with an emotional sense at its core.



Remember you NEED emotion. And emotion doesn’t have to be sappy. In fact, it’s stronger when it isn’t.

Groove with your body is emotional. It supports the message Blue Cross/Blue Shield said, “you can improve your overall health, achieve a healthy weight and reduce your risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and other illnesses.”

Health First Insurance

Most health insurance marketing is done on the local level. The result is often very poor production values.

 Health First Insurance is not alone. The quality of production is important because ads aren’t seen in a vacuum. Audiences see glossy marketing materials and great TV ads alongside ones that have an infomercial feel to them.

This is the status quo. Take MyPriority, for example.



Compared to Aflac, the local spots are simply drowned in the sea of high-quality (and expensive) advertising. (Check out the rebranding work we did for an Aflac competitor American Fidelity.)

That’s not how it was a decade ago, Aflac was a virtual unknown among consumers. In 2000, according to Aflac itself, it was only recognized by 12% of the target audience. Today, that number has jumped to 90%.

Using a comic character in a comical situation (i.e., entertainment) only works at raising awareness, not increasing preference. That’s what Aflac has become.

However, unlike GEICO, it has developed a long-lasting equity marker in the duck that makes the brand instantly recognizable. (GEICO has too many characters to have a true equity marker.)

But what does it mean? In the above spot, the message is clearly about price – or, at least, money back.

It’s still a thing. Not an emotion.

All brands must understand the difference between the business of their business and the business of their brand.

The business of insurance companies is to provide insurance and all that comes with it: Protection, good rates, even loyalty programs.

But the business of your brand is different.

It is what you’re offering on an emotional level. Who you are when you are part of that brand.

For the Apple consumer, for example, you are the one who thinks different.

Who is the Aflac customer? Answer that question and Aflac can create preference.

Insurance Rebranding. Homeowners.

Homeowners’ insurance marketing falls into trap of promoting those things homeowners already believe they have.

Even if the most intensive message is about protection, the tone and approach are the same jokes as those found in car insurance ads. The message gets lost.


Farmer’s Insurance establishes a character (the professor) who is set into a comical situation overshadowing the message.

This is a better attempt at providing preference.

The brand is specific (covering your home’s roof) and the humor is kept low-key. (That is, compared to a talking lizard and depressed cavemen.)

Farmer’s also has the benefit of having equity markers, a recognizable theme and theme line, “We are Farmers,” that has its own nostalgic and emotional feel.

But considering how often insurance advertising is broadcast – including auto insurance – it blends in right with the others.


Travelers does the best job in the category using its equity marker. The umbrella.

The umbrella signifies protection and its theme line of “It’s better under the umbrella” gives the brand some meaning.

There is confusion about what is being marketed, but Travelers uses it equity marker and “puppy love” to get to the emotional reason why homeowner’s insurance becomes such a crucial decision. It’s one of the ways you meet change.

This is a humorous and affecting spot. Especially if you are a sucker for dogs. And the message is organic of the spot. You know who the spot is for right from the very start and the umbrellas bring their own meaning.

Rebranding Insurance Summary

insurance rebrandingHow is the GEICO customer any different than Progressive customers? Only Travelers has a brand image and meaning that is different than others. But even Travelers doesn’t go all the way.

Insurance companies hemorrhage their money on advertising that is not persuasive. Their brands are undifferentiated.

Insurance companies have always been big players in advertising dollars, but the spends have gotten so large that they are trying to buy market share. They are losing that game.

Awareness may have once been the problem for the GEICO and Progressives of the world, but it’s not anymore. The battle is over preference.

Each percentage of market share accounts for millions of dollars in revenue. There is a tremendous amount at stake.

Insurance companies— get away from the gecko and Flo, and move into something real.

 Our ProAssurance Case Study

Are there opportunities in the Insurance Category?

Is there an opportunity in the insurance industry?

The insurance industry needs to wake up

Stealing Share featured speaker at insurance gathering


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