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Six ways Esurance's new ad campaign misses the mark

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Starting with its Twitter stunt during the Super Bowl, Esurance kicked off a major television campaign to steal market share from Geico. But for reasons which follow, the campaign's a fumble.

1. Playing inside ball

Geico's claimed for years that phoning them or going online to their site can save car owners and home owners money. So someone at Esurance (or their agency, Leo Burnett, Chicago) figured the best way to conquer share was to beat Geico at its own game – by offering quotes not in the excruciatingly long time of 15 minutes, but in half that – seven-and-a-half. Problem is, they misunderstood what game it was. Geico's sell, as many of their other commercials show, is not so much about saving time as saving money. But Esurance concentrated on the mechanism, not the money.

2. Confusing a feature with a benefit

Whenever Geico mentions the 15-minute quote, it's as a setup for saving "up to 15 percent" on premiums – and, as noted, they often forgo the 15 seconds to emphasize the 15 percent.

The time for a quote is a feature, and features are far less powerful sales points than benefits – things that actually do something good for the target audience. Which savings hundreds of bucks in premiums annually certainly is.

3. It isn't true

Advertising Age was curious enough about the claim to actually check it out. Here's what they found:

We put the two companies through a time test and signed up for quotes via their website. We found that both Esurance and Geico made good on their claims and provided us with quotes well under the guaranteed time. The results were very close. Geico came in first at 3 minutes and 5 seconds while it took Esurance 3 minutes and 19 seconds to deliver.

Based on that, Esurance is not significantly faster than Geico. It's actually insignificantly (four seconds) slower.

4. The wrong hot button

The whole campaign, aimed at consumers who either insure or are considering insuring with Geico, is based on the assumption that they're doing it to save a few minutes' time.

Wrong.

They're doing it to save money. Particularly in big cities like New York, Los Angeles or Burnett's home town of Chicago, saving fifteen percent of a four-digit premium is a big deal – and, as far as consumers are concerned, well worth waiting for, even if that extra wait takes all of seven-and-a-half minutes.

5. Forgetting the core concept

Esurance's basic premise is that because they do everything digitally rather than manually, they save costs – costs which they pass on to their insureds in the form of lower premiums.

But you'd never guess that from the commercials, whose emphasis on waiting time obscures the core message.

6. Insulting the two most important audience segments

The two Esurance commercials don't just make the wrong point. They make the wrong point in the wrong way, by making fun of two crucial audience segments.

Geico customers and considerers are important, because that's the brand Esurance has set themselves up to compete head to head with.

And older consumers – particularly Early Baby Boomers, who are now in their 60s – are important, if only because there are so darned many of them; since their birth Boomers have been, far and away, America's biggest demographic cohort.

The commercials insult both, by depicting them as senile and stupid.

One commercial features Beatrice, who's saving time by putting up grandkids' photos on her wall – not an online picture wall, buy a drywall wall in her house.

Another stars Larry, a guy so old, he probably grew up thinking his race was Black instead of African-American, who saves time by not rewinding rental DVDs before he returns them and is happy saving time with 15-minute quotes from Geico. In case the insult here was too implicit, the voice-over explicitly disses him by calling him crazy. ("15 minutes for a quote is crazy.)

Maybe the idea is to make some prospects feel insufferably smug about themselves with stereotypes of old farts as people too dumb to figure out computers.

If so, that's wrong on two counts:

  • From a historical and factual standpoint – retirees were among the earliest adopters of computer technology, starting with a newfangled thing called email.
  • From a marketing strategy and creative execution standpoint – you don't sell people on your band by calling them stupid, senile or coming up with other ways to mock them.

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