OK, it's a little derivative. A lot derivative. Basically, it's a mash-up of two enormously popular, enormously successful TV campaigns. "The World's Greatest Spokesperson in the World," for Nationwide Insurance, is exactly 50% Flo, the Progressive insurance store clerk, and 50% the Dos Equis' "Most Interesting Man in the World."
So what? Us, we wouldn't borrow so heavily from other sources, on grounds of journalistic ethics and simple self-respect. But advertising isn't journalism, and it certainly isn't art. Advertising is permitted to mate a donkey with a horse and sell the client a mule, because the client just wants to sell stuff to folks and doesn't much care how. Nor do the folks, who have bigger things to worry about -- like health care and Tiger Woods. If it's a nice mule, believe you us, all is forgiven.
Agency: McKinney, Durham, N.C.
The conceit is as follows: Nationwide executives, desperate to connect with customers and prospects, must bring someone back into the fold, someone who has long since taken another path: the world's greatest spokesperson in the world.
The guy is like Clint Eastwood in "Unforgiven" or any similar literary archetype of the outlaw or genius who has chosen to live off the grid.
But they copter to his mountain hideaway and appeal to his residual spokespersonness, and the bearded hermit takes up the challenge.
"All right," he says, "then I'm gonna need a list of everyone with insurance ... and a blue phone."
A blue phone? In subsequent spots, we discover that he carries a touchtone desktop model (in Nationwide's trademark medium blue) slung over his shoulder like a pocketbook so that he can connect individual customers with the home office. This he does with a preposterous degree of enthusiasm. Whether it's the DiscountFinder feature or the "Vanishing Deductible" for accident-free drivers, he is there to make things happen. He's shed the bitterness and suspicion (and whiskers) of the man on the mountain and become ... well ... Flo. He really, really likes customer service.
And, in an absurd, over-the-top way, he's funny. When the folks at the home office don't come up with an idea fast enough, he gags like a dog choking on a heartworm pill. That's unexpected, and kind of funny. Just as the redundant "World's ... in the World" gag is kind of funny.
But here's the thing: Devotion or no, the World's etc. isn't Flo. Flo is an adorably enthusiastic evangelist for her insurance company, but all of the warm comedy derives from her outsize passion. She's a bit cartoonish, but also close enough to real. Nationwide's man, by contrast, is a lunatic. If he showed up at your door, you would not let him in. One wonders, is that the image a major financial institution wishes to project?
Insurance sales are built, more than anything else, on trust. Flo would never, ever steer you wrong. This guy you wouldn't trust with sharp scissors. So, is he the guy with whom you'd entrust your house, car and survivors' financial future? It's a legitimate question.
Ten or 15 years ago, we'd have said "no chance." With the exception of Snoopy for Met Life, insurance advertising was one of three things: real-life agents being neighborly, vast outcroppings looking financially stable or families being left unprotected by the dead breadwinner. There were no cavemen or geckos. So maybe this is the year of the mule.
Or maybe this is just the world's biggest rip-off in the world.