American Family Insurance Extends Branded-Entertainment Platform

Bolstered by Strong ROI, Marketer Rolls Out Gaming Platform, Season Two of Scripted Web Series

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LOS ANGELES (AdAge.com) -- American Family Insurance and its media agency, Mindshare Entertainment, are entering the second phase of a branded-entertainment strategy with an even stronger focus on targeting and tracking new customers. Starting Monday, the marketer's scripted web series, "In Gayle We Trust," enters its second season along with other sponsored programming that will raise the bar when it comes to measuring the success of each entertainment property.

The scripted web series 'In Gayle We Trust' enters its second season on Monday.
The scripted web series 'In Gayle We Trust' enters its second season on Monday.
In addition to "In Gayle We Trust," which will debut on NBC.com, Hulu and more than 25 video on-demand channels, the marketer will roll out a new social-simulation game, "I-Am-Fam," from game developer WildTangent, and the second iteration of MSN's "Building a Brighter Future," featuring financial advice from popular columnist Liz Weston and a new Spanish-language micro-site to target the Latino community.

Each series will feature its own lead-generation software that will measure how many new "quote starts" (requests for price quotes) or qualified leads each series contributed. Telisa Yancy, American Family Insurance's director of advertising, said last fall's program led to increased requests to find an agent, as well as a 20% bump in quote starts. Other metrics, such as purchase intent, were up by 24%, while the brand's perception of being an innovator increased by 30%, according to research commissioned by American Family Insurance and its media partners.

Last fall, American Family and Mindshare took a risk with a strategy often adopted by marketers with five times the insurer's modest $48 million media budget: They turned traditional media dollars into a multiplatform branded-entertainment program. The three-pronged partnership -- with NBC Universal for "In Gayle We Trust" and MSN and CBS Radio for customized radio programming ("The Family You Choose") -- changed the way American Family generated leads from new customers and some of the company's strongest metrics to date.

"We wanted to create a unified principle across a significant set of media partners that would allow us to tell a significant story to consumers in an engaging way," Ms. Yancy said.

MSN's 'Building a Brighter Future' features financial advice from popular columnist Liz Weston.
MSN's 'Building a Brighter Future' features financial advice from popular columnist Liz Weston.
Each program is designed to tell a different part of American Family's unique brand offering. "Gayle," for example, is a web sitcom about an American Family Insurance agent (Elisa Donovan, who plays the titular character) designed to promote the reliability of the brand's agents. Cameron Death, VP of NBC's Digital Studio, said the second season was designed to have a more serialized storyline after viewers watched multiple episodes of the first season (which garnered nearly 3 million total views, according to Omniture).

"Although each episode stands alone, we've added creative through-lines that bring people through the entire series to a climactic end," he said. "Our writing staff spent a considerable amount of time with agents to get the 'real' feel of the character and situations that would be rife for humor."

NBC is also upping the promotional ante to get the word about its first original web series to get renewed for a second season. This month it will debut an exclusive in-theater trailer in cinemas to build buzz for the series, and will utilize on-air promotion for sister networks such as USA, as well as NBC's owned-and-operated local broadcast stations.

Ms. Yancy said content from all three programs will be housed at American Family Insurance's own web page to save consumers the extra effort of finding the programs individually. Whereas most of the brand's web traffic still comes from search, NBC and MSN's programs were the third and fourth-largest traffic drivers during the first branded entertainment program, she said.

"We've really reconsidered how we address media and engagement with our media partners. It's about what traffic they can deliver for us in our own environments, though we also believe that it's critical for us to develop our tools as our content is ported out into particular [third-party] sites."

"I-Am-Fam," a new social simulation game from WildTangent, is perhaps the closest American Family Insurance has come to using branded entertainment as a direct-response tool, crafting an entire "Second Life"-esque virtual world game to showcase the role insurance plays in the everyday lives of avatars as they start new families. The game will be distributed in part through Facebook Connect, and will redirect users to an American Family sign-up page to request quotes or an agent.

Bill Clifford, WildTangent's VP-advertising, admits, however, that the concept of building an entire game around insurance was daunting at first.

"The thought was striking a bit of a nerve, so we actually worked with Mindshare and American Family Insurance to create a game about life, not about insurance. The trick was to turn insurance into a strategic game-play element. So if there's a pipe burst in my house and there's a flood in the kitchen, how many points have I accumulated to make sure I'm insured?"

David Lang, president of Mindshare Entertainment, which developed both programs for American Family Insurance, said the reason the first program was so successful was the cross-partner collaboration encouraged by all parties. Executives from the brand, the agency and all three content partners held an in-person brainstorming meeting during the first program to exchange ideas so that each program would be unique, while a similar approach was applied to the second iteration to encourage cooperation without competition among media partners.

"At the end of the day, we were able to orchestrate a situation where these two very different media owners and WildTangent were all having to collaborate and have their content to and be connected to one another, forcing them to be collaborative for the benefit of the client," he said.