Posted on | June 29, 2009 | 3 Comments
Ecra Creative Group
1. Even in an age of geckos and cartoon crime-fighters, most insurance ad campaigns are pretty boring. Nationwide’s latest blitz is no exception.
2. However, one ad in the series – featuring an blind employee with Asperger’s – stands out and breaks through.
3. Some may make the argument that his disabilities are distracting, but I contend Nationwide made a smart and courageous choice to reach their target audience.
Aside from geckos and cavemen, insurance advertising is pretty boring.
That’s especially true if you happen to be one of the old-line insurance firms. Nationwide Insurance, and its latest broadcast campaign, certainly falls into that category.
The television spots feature actual Nationwide employees – adjusters, agents, and claims reps – in a effort to reinforce the overall brand position of the company (who’s “on your side”) with the actual people who are “on your side”. The “making it real” approach, as it were.
The employees relate stories about how Nationwide contributes to its communities, is ready to forgive an mistake (such as an accident or moving violation), and even has its own iPhone app.
Where have we seen this before? Let me count the campaigns: All State. American Family. Travelers. State Farm. New York Life. The Hartford. Remarkably unremarkable.
Except for one ad. One very important ad.
This particular ad features Nationwide employee Michael Piccerello. In his 30-second spot, he discusses how he sees customer complaints as opportunities to improve his organization. He tells us that he is there to listen, and then to see what he can do to make it right.
From my description (and without seeing the ad), you might be inclined to think that what makes this ad so important is that he is admitting the obvious: Nationwide, as a big insurance company, is going to screw up sometimes, and their call center folks see those as chance to improve, rather than assign blame. It’s refreshing to hear a company actually come clean.
That’s a good reason, but that’s not it.
When you see the commercial, you see that Michael Piccerello is blind. (The camera pans down so that you can see his service dog.) Additionally, he has Asperger’s syndrome, a form of high-functioning autism.
The ad takes you aback the first time you watch it.
We are simply not accustomed to seeing people with disabilities – especially mental disabilities – in a public role outside of the context of their disability. Let me put it another way. Michael is not talking about Nationwide’s services for people who have lost their sight. He is also not talking about Nationwide’s acceptance and hiring of people with Asperger’s. Rather, he is communicating an over-arching advertising message for his firm.
That’s what makes this ad so very unique.
It is one of the very first of its kind. A national campaign, featuring someone with physical and mental disabilities, whose primary message to us is not related to the disabilities themselves.
Nevertheless, it took great courage for Nationwide to take this step.
Because right under the surface – right under the veneer of civility – we see what some people are really thinking. In the blogosphere, without fear of personal identification and reprisal, we see just how ugly and vile people can be. I’ll let you read a few of the posts I found related to this specific ad yourself, but be warned, you may be disturbed by what you read.
However, in the interest of rhetorical criticism, I must address their underlying argument. Subtracting the profanity, crudeness, and epithets, it is summarized as follows: Michael Piccerello, and his obvious visible physical disabilities, distracts from the message Nationwide tries to communicate. Instead of leaving with the important and humble message of a company that makes mistakes, but will work to correct them, you are left fixated on Michael the person. Whatever your feelings may be towards him, those feelings will not relate to the core message of the campaign. Hence, the ad is a failure.
For some portions of the viewing audience, that argument may have some validity.
But I would make a different argument.
The purpose of advertising – good advertising – is to break our complacency. Otherwise, the ad is likely to fall into the background noise of an otherwise over-cluttered media landscape, where many of us simply tune out or TiVo through it. Advertising can shock us, it can make us laugh, it can make us angry, but in order to communicate, it cannot be boring. Michael makes us pay attention.
But what of the argument that Michael’s disabilities would distract us from he core message? Yes, the ad “shocks” us, but doesn’t it fail to communicate the real message? I would say “no”. The ad’s message will strike home with the correct audience.
Think about the target market for a moment. This person is 40 years old plus. This person is likely to have a spouse, children, a home, and more than one car. In the insurance business, that’s a gold-mine: Life insurance, college savings plans, homeowners insurance, retirement investments, and auto insurance. This is also a person who has seen enough of life to grow out of childish snickering at the sight of a person with disabilities. This person has likely worked with such a person, or been part of a PTA organization with such a person, or been taught by such a person in graduate school. In other words, they may be “surprised” to see Michael in an ad, but they don’t see him the same way those young bloggers do. To them, he is authentic. He makes you listen.
If we look deeper into the life experience of the people critical of Nationwide’s decision (from what they share publicly), we see they are not quite at the point in their lives where they are likely to see people with disabilities outside of the context of a special education classroom.
Is that to say all young people feel the same way? Goodness, no. Is that to say all people over 30 have matured beyond that narrow perspective? Sadly, no.
But it does mean that Nationwide made a smart move by selected Michael. He can break through the clutter. And that’s what makes him – and this ad – special.