Protect Your Toaster: Nationwide Pitches Renter's Insurance

'Unburglar' Character Crashes Apartment in TV Spot for March Madness

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After slithering through a home last year, Nationwide's leather-clad insurance pitchwoman is sneaking into a new dwelling this month: an apartment.

The subtle creative tweak is emblematic of a larger strategy shift for the insurer as it puts more emphasis on selling renter's insurance in addition to home insurance. The goal is to sign up more young-adult customers who continue to delay home-buying in favor of renting, said Nationwide Chief Marketing Officer Matt Jauchius.

Millennials are "holding off marriage longer, and that means they rent for even longer," he said. "And they are truly not covered. There is a real need here that isn't being met."

Nationwide points to a recent analysis of Census Bureau data by USA Today showing that among households headed by 25- to 34-year olds, the number of renters jumped by more than one million from 2006 to 2011, while the number who owned fell by nearly 1.4 million.

Meanwhile, from 2007 to 2011 the number of insured rental units jumped by 39.6%, compared with 2.6% growth in the homeowners market, according to Insurance Information Institute calculations based on the latest data from the National Association of Insurance Commissioners. Still, according to Nationwide, two-thirds of renters are not covered by insurance or are "undercovered."

The new ad, which will debut Thursday, is by McKinney, Durham, N.C. The spot, which will get heavy play during March Madness, does not exactly scream renter's insurance. The only cue is that the spot is set in an urban apartment rather than a home, like last year's ad.

The lead character, played by country singer Jana Kramer, replaces fire-damaged appliances like a toaster and coffee maker with new versions. The intent is to plug Nationwide's "Brand New Belongings" coverage that reimburses policyholders with the full cost to replace lost or stolen items, rather than the depreciated value.

Why so subtle? While Nationwide is targeting renters, the insurer wanted the ad to also resonate for potential homeowners-insurance customers, Mr. Jauchius said. Indeed, while the renter's market is growing, it is still much smaller than the homeowners' market. According to the latest Insurance Information Institute figures, premiums for homeowners totaled $50.1 billion in 2011, compared with $2 billion for renters.

Ms. Kramer, who also sings the "Nationwide Is On Your Side" jingle, made her on-air debut for the insurer last year in a spot called "Unburglar" that targeted homeowners insurance. The apartment ad will account for roughly 50% of Nationwide's media buy in the next few months, Mr. Jauchius said.

Allstate is also on the air touting renter's insurance with a couple of TV ads including one TV spot showing a stolen camera that is protected by a policy that can be had for "as low as $4 a month."

State Farm plugs renter's insurance via direct mail and digital, but the insurer is not currently running TV ads for the product, according to a spokeswoman.

Meanwhile at Progressive, "the renter's market is definitely an area of interest for us," Richard Hutchinson, the company's preferred business leader, said in a statement, noting that more landlords are requiring renter's insurance. Still, the company will continue to "focus on homeowners' offerings in our national advertising campaigns," he said.

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