Commoditizing a commodity with comedy


Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but it's a poor substitute for strategy. Take the insurance industry, please!

Geico broke out from the pack long ago with a hip and irreverent campaign that alternated between the gecko and the sad sack caveman. Aflac followed suit with its duck and Progressive wasn't far behind with Flo. Next came State Farm and Allstate.

All of a sudden, a commoditized industry was commoditizing itself again with lookalike, soundalike commercials.

To test my theory that, when everyone says the same thing no one says anything, I asked 10 friends to name their favorite insurance commercial. Nine selected 'mayhem', but only four could correctly identify the advertiser: Allstate.

The pack mentality works well in the wild, when strength in numbers is needed for defense. But, it fails miserably in marketing where a distinct positioning and point of view is critical.

I experienced the pack mentality first-hand, back in the dotcom days. We were being paid $35,000 per month to launch an interactive web designer. When we presented a suggested positioning, the CEO hit the roof. "I don't want to be different. I want the market to see us, and price us, just like Sapient and Scient (two white hot IPOs of the day)." We disagreed, and we're soon shown the door.

Needless to say, the 'me too' dotcom failed. And, while these major insurance companies won't fail, their campaigns will. And the CMOs will soon be looking for new jobs.

Talk about mayhem!

4 thoughts on “Commoditizing a commodity with comedy

  1. Steve, I remembered reading this article last month by Kurt Anderson in Vanity Fair. He claims we’ve been in a cultural stagnation rut for the last 20 years.
    It seems to me for the last 20 years the personal technology has been inwardly and solo focused – we’ve spent all this time in front of our computers first alone and unconnected and then surfing solo without much ability to interact – It’s my hope that with a more socialized environment we will see a corresponding cultural rebirth. Here’s hoping for a little more innovation moving forward.

  2. Spot on, Steve. Lots and lots of CEOs, CMOs and other C-suite types are merely marking time until their stock options vest and they can sail into the sunset. They’re quite content to let the successor deal with the legacy issues (such as saying the exact same things your competitive set does).

  3. Steve, do you think there is anything to the argument that we see we so much imitation in all facets of business and, I’d argue culturally as well, because our leaders are more followers. The reason being there is safety and predictably in doing the same thing over and over again.
    Innovation is risky, expensive and not well suited to forward looking earnings statements and planning processes. Sure if it works you’re a hero but, woe to they who step outside the boundaries and fail.
    Just a thought.