In the Insurance Ad War, Consumers Ask: Who's Who?

Study Respondents Find Difficulty Matching Spots With Providers

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This won't come as a surprise, but Warren Buffet knows what he's doing when it comes to money.

When the Oracle of Omaha told Geico CMO Ted Ward, "The one thing I don't want you to have stand in your way [to market Geico] is money," he made yet another brilliant investment. According to a Lightspeed Research study for Advertising Age, 93% of consumers recognize a description of Geico's advertising, well above the No. 2 most-recognized ad, Progressive , with 82%. Better yet, 98% were able to link the ad description to Geico.

But after Geico and Progressive , there's a lot of confusion among consumers. The survey, conducted online among 502 Americans last week, gave respondents unbranded descriptions of 11 TV ads and asked them to identify the insurer. Of the 11, only four (Geico, Progressive , Allstate and State Farm) were recognized by at least half of respondents. When they were given a list of insurance companies to match them to, only five were correctly identified at least 75% of the time (add Nationwide to the above list). Fewer than 25% of respondents could recognize seven of the ads.

"It's sad that I can recognize some of the commercials but not the companies," wrote one respondent.

The exceptions were spots featuring Flo and the Geico gecko, whose unbranded ads were recognized by at least three-quarters of respondents. While almost everyone who recognized the ads was able to link the lizard to Geico, Flo came in a close second with 92% of consumers knowing that she represented Progressive . But while many raved about both characters ("Funny and entertaining and sometimes catchy") it wasn't clear that the message was getting across. "50 minutes can save you 50% on your car insurance," wrote one respondent, vastly overstating Geico's pledge of "15 minutes can save you 15% or more on your car insurance."

As for Flo, one respondent went so far as to give her fashion advice: "I wish Flo from Progressive would comb her hair or get a new style ... and lighten up the flaming red lipstick."

But look out, Flo, Mayhem is moving up the charts. After the top two, the most-recognized ad description was Allstate, with 65% of consumers saying they knew the ad, although when those same consumers were asked to associate it with a brand, only 63% correctly matched Mayhem with Allstate. (Overall, however, among the total sample, Mayhem clocked in with only 41% of respondents being able to link him to Allstate.) All that said, Mayhem got a lot of rave reviews. "The Mayhem ad made me laugh out loud!" said one. "Hilarious!" said another.

But beyond brand association, there might be a question as to whether all these ads are selling. "I love the Geico and Allstate commercials. They are forever stamped in my brain," said one respondent, who then added, "That being said, I am not a customer of either. I just enjoy the commercials." Another commenter captured the dynamic that is driving ads in the category: "I do not buy insurance by the commercials. I go online and buy by price."

And then there's this comment, typed in indignant all-caps: "Just give us better rates. Save money on all the stupid commercials and pass the saving on to the policy holders!"

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