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Travelers Reopens Umbrella as Rivals Roll Out Ads

Famous Red Logo Makes a Dramatic Return as Hero in Fallon TV Spots

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CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- Six years after its blunder in giving away the red-umbrella logo in a spinoff from Citigroup, Travelers and its icon of protection are back on air in a big way.

Like, 35-foot big.

In the first TV spot since the insurer repurchased its icon last year, the oversize umbrella is being carried through a fairy-tale landscape solving myriad problems. It protects children playing baseball from the rain, ferries a Moulin Rouge-era circus troupe to its big top and airlifts children with a broken bicycle back home before ultimately being carried to the top of a downtown office building.

Marked contrast to rivals
The 60-second, highly cinematic spot from Fallon, Minneapolis, offers a marked contrast to the more literal, overt pitches coming from the geckos, cavemen, ducks and prominent pitchmen who have become ubiquitous as insurers have ratcheted up ad spending in recent years. And there's little doubt the red umbrella is primed to become nearly as commonplace.

"We wanted to make the umbrella the hero of the spot," said Shane Boyd, VP-communications and branding. "It's hard to overstate the importance of having ... one of the great American business icons."

Travelers -- which sells its policies through independent agents, not direct to consumers -- sat out the early years of the current insurance advertising boom, with somewhat calamitous results.

"To buy Travelers shares, one must believe the next 10 years will be better than the previous 10," Morningstar analyst Matt Nellans wrote in a recent note to investors. "It would be hard to do worse."

In 2006, however, Travelers executives acknowledged they'd hurt themselves by limiting their marketing to business-to-business messages aimed at their independent agents and decided to embrace the insurance-ad boom with a huge strategic shift. It boosted measured-media spending to $79.3 million that year behind a campaign of similarly cinematic ads under the "Insurance, In-Synch" tagline, compared to $1.3 million the previous year.

In 2007, it spent $65 million, according to TNS Media Intelligence, and managed to hold its 4.4% share of nationwide premiums written as rivals such as Geico, State Farm, Allstate and Nationwide spent anywhere from three to nine times as much.

Smart vs. spending
"We're not going to outspend the top advertisers in our category," said Mr. Boyd. "We have to be smart if we're going to break through, and we think we've achieved that."

The return of the umbrella could provide an additional boost.

It first appeared in a Travelers ad in 1870, and became the company's official trademark in 1959. The company lost the icon in 2002, when Citigroup opted to keep the logo while spinning off Travelers, which adopted a more generic shield logo. Last year, Citigroup decided it didn't need to logo and recouped what Travelers executives say was a "significant" sum for it. The actual price wasn't disclosed.

But Fallon's oversize interpretation of it suggests its charge was to make sure Travelers got its money's worth. Said Fallon creative director Ryan Peck: "It was probably the first time a client never asked us to make its logo bigger."

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