Insuring Fear: Does Freaky Mayhem sell more than Confident Calm?
Fear can make us do some pretty weird things. Back in the 50’s, lots of folks spent thousands of dollars installing fallout shelters in their backyards (which, for the record, I would do in a heartbeat if I actually had the cash on hand). At other times, fear has moved many to hoard food, guns, ammo, water and even incandescent light bulbs - which is not as crazy as it sounds because I can’t see ANYTHING with those friggen CFLs supposedly “lighting” up a room. Personally, I experienced fear take me over one night as I was driving home late. At the time, I became convinced that I was being followed and started to panic. Immediately, I proceeded to employ what I thought were some pretty flash James Bond-like auto-manoeuvres to flush out my tail. In fact, as I was later informed by my wife (who was the one following me) my technique more resembled that of someone having an epileptic seizure behind the wheel than some secret agent in HMS. In my defence though she was following awfully darn close and impressionable me had just seen Casino Royale. Anyway, the point is fear can make even the strongest among us break down and do things we might not otherwise consider – like buying insurance.
Insurance has got to be one of the oddest products you’ll ever buy. It’s one of the only purchases you’ll ever make that you absolutely pray you’ll never get to use. Well, maybe Depends undergarments fit that category too but unless making fraudulent insurance claims is your business (and you’re committed to finding the firm that employs the highest number of claims adjusters with personal drinking or gambling problems) most people buy insurance and then hope to Heaven Above they never have to use it. Insurance is generally more about peace of mind than anything else.
But what if minds are too peaceful? What if things are so good and easy generally that the need for insurance falls so far from the front of your mind that you don’t bother? Cue the fear and press the stress, I guess. For quite awhile Allstate has been profiting from a series of ads that feature the calm, authoritative bearing - and chocolaty smooth tones - of Mr. Dennis Haysbert, the President from “24”. Possessing one of the best voices ever, Haysbert has made a small fortune intoning “Are you in good hands?” But Allstate needed more sales and even though Haysbert has a commercial Q-rating second only to Jesus Christ and perhaps Regis Philbin the brand needed more. They needed fear – and lots of it. Enter Mayhem.
The Allstate Mayhem ads are perfect. They are creepily funny – and appropriately disturbing - as a handsome, yet still dangerously unpredictable man in a dark suit personifies all that can pop up and totally ruin your day. In one particularly funny spot, he’s driving a hot pink SUV. We close on his face behind the wheel. “I’m a teenage girl. My BFF Becky texts and says she’s just kissed Johnny. Well, that’s a problem because I like Johnny.” It sounds stupid but his monotone delivery really sells it (the hot pink sunglasses on his head help too). At this point Mayhem tosses his cell phone behind him, and continues to monologue. “Now, I’m emotionally compromised... Whoopsies.” And suddenly he swerves hard, absolutely creaming a parked car and ripping off its front end. Mayhem continues his monotone rant. “I’m all OMG! Becky’s not even hot.” As the owner of the car runs out to view the damage on her car, Mayhem is long gone, but still talking away. “And if you’ve got cut-rate insurance you could be paying for this yourself. So get Allstate. You can save money and be better protected from Mayhem…..like me.” And at that, the car does a hard left and disappears. Officially shocked and awed, we are then re-embraced by the voice of Mr. confidence Haysbert as he reminds us that Allstate is really what’s gonna save us. Whew!
The ads are great and there’s a ton of them. Mayhem takes the form of a tree branch, a hot female jogger, your son, a GPS system, a Douglas fir Christmas tree, a team flag, the family dog, a satellite dish, a wild deer and even snow. I took some acting classes way back when and was charged with portraying a potted plant and a chair. I can report I had nothing on this guy (though I was surprisingly adept at crying on demand). No, Dean Winters is perfect as Mayhem, doing a job even Robert DeNiro couldn’t touch, which isn’t saying that much when you consider the embarrassment that is Little Fockers.
The Mayhem campaign makes perfect sense to me. Fear is one heck of a motivator when it comes to moving us to action. I still have 782 packages of freeze-dried food bought in advance of Y2K. Luckily it’s not wasted as I fully expect the 2012 prophecies to start kicking in any day now. Without a doubt, fear is big business and when it comes to making the most of it, insurance companies have it down cold. I just wish the small print in all their forms didn’t freak me out so much. Now that’s scary.