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Forget the Oscars, Farmers Insurance Is Running Its Own Awards

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The Academy Awards are less than a week away, but animal lovers may want to tune into a mock award show created by Farmers Insurance Group. The Los Angeles-based insurer has put together a digital campaign designed to highlight some of its craziest real-life claims in a format that takes advantage of the current awards season. Called "The Burkies," after Farmers' spokesman Professor Burke, the character created by Oscar winner JK Simmons six years ago, the awards will also play up Farmers' "We Know From Experience" campaign, now in its second year.

"It's allowing us to extend the campaign in a way people have given us permission to do at a time when they want to be entertained," said Leesa Eichberger, who joined the 89-year-old company last year as head of brand marketing. She noted that the company tried something similar on a smaller scale with a digital effort tied to the Olympics last summer and met with success. "We're not just developing content for content's sake, but content that's relevant, fun and interesting."

Beginning Monday, Farmers will push out a series of spots, including a 30-second promo trailer and six award contenders, each in a different film genre, like horror, romance and comedy. Among the finalists are a dog dreaming of diving who floods his owners' house; a deer who hosts a stag party and destroys the pool; and a turkey uprising that causes a meat truck to crash. A lot of the video footage is repurposed from prior ads—such as a "romantic rodent" that steals a wedding ring. Using stock and existing footage kept production costs low, said Ms. Eichberger, who declined to specify the campaign's budget. In 2015, Farmers spent $140.9 million on measured media in the U.S., according to Kantar Media.

Farmers tapped Santa Monica, Calif.-based RPA for the new digital push. RPA began working with the brand seven years ago, when it created the company's well-known jingle "We Are Farmers."

"It's Oscars season, when people are focused on film and catching up on the best of Hollywood's story-telling," said Pat Mendelson, exec. creative director at RPA. "So we wanted to find a way to combine our unbelievable stories of 'real' claims Farmers has covered with this exciting moment in culture."

The new work comes at a time when several insurers are pushing digital marketing as a way to better engage with their customers and drive brand loyalty. Over the weekend, competitor State Farm streamed a Facebook Live session with spokesman Chris Paul of the Los Angeles Clippers to highlight its volunteer efforts in New Orleans. And last week, Progressive launched a digital campaign with Facebook in which spokeswoman Flo stars in new spots exclusively for the social network. Farmers was the fourth largest provider of homeowners insurance with a 6% market share in 2015, according to the Insurance Information Institute.

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