State Farm Wants You to be a Good Neighbor Too

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Not content with being the only good neighbor on the block, State Farm wants its customers and potential customers to volunteer in their communities. The Bloomington, Ill.-based marketer, the largest auto insurer in the U.S., is debuting its Neighborhood of Good platform, which will connect consumers to charitable opportunities in their towns. To market the effort, State Farm will debut a two-minute film "The Following" on Monday.

"We have been doing this and living this within the organization," said Rand Harbert, chief agency, sales and marketing officer at the 95-year-old company, of the first-time push. "This is big effort to take it beyond the organization." He noted that though most people want to volunteer, very few actually take action and that State Farm, with its 19,000 agents spread across the country, can help.

In the film, which will air on broadcast TV in 30- and 60-second versions, a man is increasingly followed by a stray dog as he travels to and from work and goes about his daily life. Soon, the dog is joined by a homeless man, a kid who has dropped out of school, a child with cancer and polar bears—all examples of causes that could be helped by volunteerism. Eventually, the man visits a Youth Outreach Mentoring Center to lend his support. "You can lift the weight of caring by doing," says a voiceover in the video. The film ends by supplying the website NeighborhoodofGood.com, where consumers can get matched up to appropriate charities in their geographic areas. Proceeds from the commercial's song, a cover version of the Chainsmokers' "Don't Let Me Down," by Joy Williams, will go to charity.

Mr. Harbert said the campaign has been roughly a year in the making. The TV spots, which will have a heavy presence during the NCAA tournament and NBA playoffs, will air through the summer. State Farm is also planning activations in 17 cities beginning March 23 and will share inspirational stories on social media in April, which is National Volunteer Month.

DDB, State Farm's lead agency, worked on the campaign, though the other agencies the brand works with, such as Translation, will help to promote the effort. Last year, State Farm spent $524.6 million on measured media in the U.S., according to Kantar Media.

One expert said the new strategy is in keeping with State Farm's "Good Neighbor" ethos and can help the brand reinforce the message. Though most insurers, like Nationwide, for example, have a history of giving back to the community, the idea of encouraging policyholders to also volunteer is fairly new.

"It's reinforcing that not only are our agents part of the fabric of the community, but here's a way to make that fabric richer—I'm not surprised this came from State Farm as opposed to someone else," said Ellen Carney, principal analyst of insurance eBusiness and channel strategy at Forrester Research. She noted that most customers choose the cheapest auto insurance, but this is a way for State Farm to distinguish itself and could also appeal to younger millennials who are very cause-oriented. Many insurers have had trouble managing customer expectations lately and are also enduring more frequent and higher claims from distracted drivers and older cars—State Farm took a $7 billion hit on its auto insurance underwriting last year.

To compete with a bevy of other players, which increasingly include more startup players like home insurer Lemonade, State Farm has been refreshing its marketing image. Last year, it unveiled a new tagline, "Here to Help Life Go Right" to reflect its breadth of services.