MBPT Spotlight: How Allstate Takes On Challenges Of Using Sports To Sell Insurance

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Allstate Insurance, founded in 1931 as part of Sears, Roebuck, is most readily identified as the “Good Hands” people, an iconic message that dates back to the 1950s.

To support its insurance platform and also to help bring its “You’re In Good Hands” message to a new demographic, the Northbrook, Ill.-based firm has taken a hands-on approach in college sports. In 2006, the company signed as title sponsor for the postseason Sugar Bowl. In 2012, Allstate became a corporate partner with the NCAA (replacing State Farm in the insurance category), an alliance that reaches more than 400,000 student-athletes competing in 89 championships in 23 sports across three divisions.

This season also marks the 10th anniversary of the ”Good Hands Field Goal Nets” effort, which sees the company make a donation to the scholarship funds of 81 participating universities based on the number of field goals per game kicked into a net with the Good Hands image positioned behind the goal posts. To date, Allstate said it has contributed more than $3.4 million to collegiate scholarships via this effort.

In addition to many other football and student tie-ins, Allstate is also the official auto, home and life insurance sponsor of Major League Soccer, the U.S. Soccer Federation and the Mexican National Team.

Here, Pam Hollander, VP of marketing for Allstate, speaks to the challenges of using sports to sell insurance, brand loyalty among students, the role the Allstate Sugar Bowl will play in the new CFB playoff system and the pros and cons of using humor and “Mayhem” as a marketing tactic. An edited transcript follows.

There are several other insurance companies in the college sports category. What has been most effective for Allstate to differentiate itself and its message to fans and potential customers—and their parents—within college demographics?

The truth of the matter is that it’s a crowded environment. Insurance overall is such an active category, and if you look at sports across every genre, insurance is there. It is very heavily integrated. What Allstate has done is that we have unique entry points and unique assets that are easily and readily identifiable with the ‘Good Hands’ motto, and that is the ‘Field Goal Net’ program. We have been an advertiser in the sports category for years, even prior to entering into the physical element and starting to become part of the fabric of the game. That in a big way has set us apart. As well as the effort we have put in to grow it and sustain it. So it wasn’t a case of us being one-and-done. We entered into the program ten years ago. When we began we had fewer than 30 schools. Now we work with more than 80. There has been a steady growth of the program with such phenomenal schools, which are coming to us and saying, ‘Let us be part of it.’

How key is the program to keeping Allstate in the public eye?

It’s not just the visibility, which is huge. Let’s not underestimate that aspect. But it’s also become a terrific altruistic program for us. For every kick that goes into the net, there is money that goes back into the general scholarship fund for the partner schools. So they are getting something very beneficial out of it. And that is a big piece of what we are doing. And that’s just one part of Allstate’s overall program. If you look at the 81 partner schools and what we do there, the fact that we have a major platform at the end of the CFB season with the Allstate Sugar Bowl and that we have attached ourselves to the Allstate AFCA Good Works Team, which recognizes players who show standout involvement in charity and community service. So we have a nice, winning formula.

How loyal are college football fans to brands that support their schools and teams?

We are finding that for the most part they are very loyal. We have been involved with some schools for ten years, so people who knew us when they were students are passing it along to their kids. In fact, we have a new TV spot, “More Good,” which uses as its premise parents trying to pass along their school traditions and fandom to their kids. And we have had humorous commercials in our Mayhem campaign that specifically combine elements of college and sports [including “Tailgate Grill Fire,” “Super Fan” and “Team Flag”]. We are finding that loyalty being passed along. And not just because of our association with college sports, but across a multitude of sports. If fans see brands supporting a passion point for which they have an affinity, they are more likely to have an affinity for and an association with those brands.

How important has it been for Allstate to be an official corporate sponsor of the NCAA and support sports and student-athletes?

One of the main reasons we went to the NCAA in the first place was that they gave us a ubiquitous footprint across all of college athletics and the opportunity to reach a large number of students and athletes, which we love. If budgets weren’t an issue, I’d love to be part of each of the NCAA’s 89 championships. That’s not possible. But we have other opportunities. When a championship game is taking place, we can have our regional or local home office activate to support the event, even if it’s not on the level of a national platform. The Final Four is the crown jewel of that. We do the Women’s Basketball Final Four. We do women’s softball, men’s baseball, lacrosse, hockey, college football and the Allstate Sugar Bowl. We are at the other championship games activating and showing our appreciation and fandom for those sports and athletes.

What are the biggest challenges in trying to balance the serious purposes of buying insurance with making Allstate’s sports programs and supporting marketing messages entertaining and memorable?

It is a fine line to walk. One of the biggest challenges in working for an insurance brand is that I don’t have a product that you can taste, touch or feel. You can’t sample insurance. Also, people are not waking up every day thinking about insurance as a product. And when you do think about insurance, it’s usually after something has happened and you need to put it into action. So we use these types of properties as a way for people to engage with the brand. If you look at the approach we take with our advertising and marketing messages, humor is okay. There are intersections of insurance and sports that do make sense. Yes, some of them will be tongue-in-cheek. In New Orleans, for example, for the Allstate Sugar Bowl, we paint the town blue with Allstate images. You will see out-of-home billboards, taxi-toppers, elsewhere, where we take sports terminology and iconic references to sports that also make sense in insurance. Which ultimately ties in to our ‘Good Hands’ motto.

Is there a similar challenge for Allstate’s TV campaigns?

There is, and we have been successful in making it work. For example, there is a spot in our Mayhem campaign where a fan of college basketball is so engrossed in watching a game on TV that he doesn’t know his kitchen is on fire. It talks about March Mayhem and stresses that Allstate agents help keep you protected. So there are ways where we try to make that intersection relevant, humorous and still be able to tell our message.

Given the new CFB playoff format, will there be unique marketing for and on-site activations at the 2015 College Football Playoff Semifinal during the Allstate Sugar Bowl?

We have been very excited about the new playoff system and are very excited to be part of it. There is a lot of interest being built around it and we certainly are going to be part of the new system in the most relevant ways that we can. We have been involved with the Sugar Bowl since 2006 so we know what works for us as a brand. We will bring back the elements that have been successful for us and that are strong for us and incorporate some new elements. The match-ups are really key for us. When you get two schools that travel well and are really engaged with the experience of New Orleans, that really helps to enhance our activations. So we are just starting to develop our plans. But people who come to the game will see a lot of things we’ve done in the past because, as I said, we know that they work but some new activations, as well. So we are very excited to see what happens with the new playoff format.

Each company has its own reason for staying with or leaving a naming rights deal, and there have been numerous turnovers among college bowl games in the past few seasons. Why does Allstate want to stay with the Sugar Bowl?

I see why companies have their own pros and cons. Each company has to evaluate what is right for them and what works for them. Things change over time. Who knows what happens with marketing budgets? For us, the Sugar Bowl is not only a key tenet grounding us in the world of college football and college sports, but we like the identity it gives us. We like coming into things and staying with them.

Looking back and moving forward, how would you rank the ‘You’re In Good Hands with Allstate’ motto in marketing history and does it still resonate with new and younger consumers?

When Dean Winters, who plays the Mayhem guy and Dennis Haysbert go out in public, people walk up to them and cup their hands together. So it does still resonate with consumers of different ages and demographics, And I don’t see us wavering from the strategy that ‘You Are In Good Hands with Allstate.’ Good hands, and the essence of good, that’s what we continue to evolve and work around. And what we use to continue to tie in with sports and fans. We use messages where we say protection is our game. We work with soccer goalies, the one person on the team who can use their hands. There are so many synergies with insurance that make sense.

This interview was reprinted with permission of NYSportsJournalism.com.

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