State Farm Ventures Into Reality TV

A&E's 'Jacked' Offers Ideal Venue for Tips on Preventing Auto Theft -- and Brand Integration

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- State Farm may be the second-biggest ad spender among insurance marketers (No. 3 if you count vehicle insurer Geico), but an aggressive new media strategy is putting it at the top of the branded-entertainment pack.
State Farm is the integrated sponsor of A&E's new reality series 'Jacked: Auto Theft Task Force.'
State Farm is the integrated sponsor of A&E's new reality series 'Jacked: Auto Theft Task Force.' Credit: A&E

The insurer recently had its debut as the integrated sponsor of "Jacked: Auto Theft Task Force," a new reality series airing Thursday nights at 10 on A&E, in which New Jersey-based State Farm agent Tom Tobin also appears. State Farm will be featured throughout each of the series' 13 episodes, with Mr. Tobin on hand to provide auto-theft prevention tips during commercials adjacent to the program.

Tricky branding task
Jeanette Stewart, advertising manager for State Farm, said insurance isn't always the easiest thing to brand when it comes to product placements, so when "Jacked" was pitched to Ms. Stewart and her media agency, Omnicom Group's OMD, they saw a rare branding opportunity. "State Farm as an organization is all about getting that loss mitigation message out there ... and sponsoring 'Jacked' gives us the capacity to reach out in different mediums and reaching hopefully different people at different times."

But in the increasingly competitive (not to mention recession-strapped) category of home and auto insurance, State Farm was not the only advertiser interested in joining "Jacked." Jamie Cuthbert, A&E's VP-integrated advertising sales, said the network was looking for the right partner to help bring the show's auto-safety tips to life, which State Farm could offer by staffing agents such as Mr. Tobin.

"A&E is very good at telling these entertaining and gripping stories, and State Farm is very good at telling stories about insurance tips," Mr. Cuthbert said. "We're excited because [the tips] looked seamlessly like the show, and State Farm was excited because it brought to life their message."

Beyond "Jacked," State Farm has been looking at other integration opportunities to promote other aspects of its business. Earlier this year the marketer sponsored the TLC series "My First Home," in which State Farm agents appeared to help new home owners select their first insurance policy. State Farm even ventured into scripted programming for an episode of TBS' "The Bill Engvall Show," in which Mr. Engvall's son learns a valuable lesson about teen driving.

Overall spending continues
But despite the recent spate of branded entertainment, State Farm is showing no signs of pulling back its overall ad spending. During the first half of 2008, the marketer spent $214.8 million on measured media, which puts it on track to meet and likely exceed the $319.7 million it spent for all of 2007, according to TNS Media Intelligence.

Yet despite the natural efficiencies that come with owning a share of content rather than spending more to reach the same consumer elsewhere through 30-second spots, Ms. Stewart is reluctant to paint her company's new media strategy as anything but a new branding opportunity.

"We've led the insurance industry since 1942, so our plans have always been to look for efficiencies," she said. "We as an organization are about empowering people with the knowledge to help them make good insurance decisions, and the fact that we're in shows where it makes sense to be aligning ourselves helps tell people that message."
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