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Inside Allstate's Strategy to Start Mayhem on Twitter

How Insurer Hashes Out What's Fair Game to Tweet

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When Allstate's Mayhem joined Twitter on Sept. 24 he got to work quickly, posting nearly 450 tweets in a single day. Then, he went silent for several days beginning Oct. 6.

The seemingly erratic behavior is actually a calculated effort by Allstate and its agency, Leo Burnett, to use the social-media tool to extend the reach of one of advertising's most recognized characters with a judicious yet seemingly spontaneous approach.

The new Mayhem Twitter account 

The first question is what took so long to get him on Twitter? The TV campaign launched in mid-2010, and Mayhem has long had a Facebook page. But "we've been very careful about not overdoing Mayhem and not overexposing [him]," said Jennifer Egeland, Allstate's director-advertising and integrated marketing communications. The marketer waited until it had "the right idea for launching him in the Twitter space," she said.

The account, which is managed by a team of about 15 people at Allstate and Burnett, will be used to preview TV spots. The approach will conform to the character's persona, which is to personify the dangers that can haunt consumers if they don't have good insurance. For instance, on Oct. 1, Mayhem polled followers about what he should portray in the next ad: a charcoal grill or a cheap bungee cord. Although consumers voted for the cord, Mayhem disobeyed, tweeting: "Too bad I'm a tailgate grill. Who's got a light?" He followed it up with Vine videos of a car set on fire from a grill mishap.

Allstate will also inject the character into current-event conversations that often overtake Twitter. But in doing so the insurer will follow the Mayhem rulebook, which is to avoid incidents that caused death or injury, as well as anything that might be too divisive. "By nature we try to keep it a little lighter," said Kevin Lilly, Leo Burnett's senior VP-director of participation strategy. "We don't want it to be something that is too polarizing." So you won't see Mayhem tweeting about the government shutdown. But Al Roker oversleeping the "Today" show? That would've been fair game. "You could see Mayhem being an alarm," Mr. Lilly said.

Mayhem so far has amassed more than 13,000 followers with the help of some paid Twitter advertising, according to Burnett. That compares with about 20,000 followers for Progressive's Flo character, who has been tweeting since early 2012, according to her feed.

Mayhem will tweet judiciously, Mr. Lilly said. That sticks with the campaign's less-is-more approach. For instance, the actor who plays Mayhem, Dean Winters, almost never makes live appearances in character. (An exception came at the 2012 Association of National Advertiser's annual conference, when Mayhem crashed the stage during an Allstate presentation.)

Of course, scarcity was hardly the rule when Mayhem made his Twitter debut with 447 tweets about "whale facts." The goal was to induce Twitter's "fail whale" in a move to create "#TwitterMayhem." While he never got the whale, Mayhem did get a message saying he had exceeded the daily tweet allotment.

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