Insurance Sexy? Exec From Victoria's Secret Spices Up Nationwide

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If there's any product category more wanting for emotional drivers, more lacking in the rewards of immediate gratification and void of sexiness than insurance, Steven Schreibman is hard-pressed to name it.

"It's a necessary evil," admitted Mr. Schreibman, VP-advertising and brand management for Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co. "It's difficult to purchase, and it's a lot of work. People want to enjoy their money now."

Even so, one also might be hard-pressed to find a product category as mired in a price war and as explosive in ad spending today-with the top five brands expected to increase spending by double digits this year, including Nationwide by more than 40%.

Mr. Schreibman, 44, brings to this insurance dogfight experience as director of marketing at Victoria's Secret, and for him, the once staid, sleepy world of insurance has been anything but. Nationwide's most recent contribution to this activity was its first foray in Super Bowl advertising earlier this month.

Return of Fabio

That commercial from TM Advertising, Dallas, starred romance icon Fabio and warned consumers of the need for insurance because "Life comes at you fast." The Super Bowl might not be the kind of venue where the consumer expects to see an offbeat insurance ad, but so much the better for Nationwide. "Our pregame press was probably worth $4 million," Mr. Schreibman noted. "Our ad ran a zillion times on television before it even aired."

Once a high-profile advertiser in the 1970s ("Nationwide is on your side"), the $4.3 billion insurer went mostly quiet until 1999 when a new logo and short-lived campaign dubbed "Picture this" launched.

Significant investment in the brand returned with the "Life comes at you fast" push that broke in April 2004 as a test; in 2006 it goes national to 45 markets. The creative focus shows no signs of waning. "I'm not about changing for change's sake," Mr. Schreibman said.

Now more than ever, Nationwide needs consistency. Along with State Farm Insurance Co. and Allstate Corp., Nationwide is battling scrappier upstarts Geico Corp. and Progressive Group of Insurance Cos. in its largest business, automobile insurance.

In response, Nationwide is upping its ad spending again, by more than 40% in 2006, said Kathy Ricord, a 20-year Nationwide veteran who was named chief marketing officer three years ago.

Ms. Ricord said focus groups conducted when Mr. Schreibman arrived in 2003 included comments from customers that "financial services companies don't even have a pulse. If you could just show us there are some people there, it could make a difference."

And that's where Mr. Schreibman has excelled, she added. "He knows that the purpose of advertising is to generate sales and not just win creative awards," Ms. Ricord said. "He's been able to generate a ton of excitement internally about how we show ourselves to the public."

Mr. Schreibman has led a push at Nationwide to analyze every consumer interaction, from the on-hold message to how consumers are greeted in a claims center. The goal: Stay above the fray.

"You can win short term on price, but you will not win long term. We are trying to stay above price in building a brand," he said, adding investments instead have been made in products and service, a formula similar to Victoria's Secret. "When you spend $48 for a bra," he said, the consumer is "buying it for the look or feel in the store."

Just Asking

Steven Schreibman


You’ve worked on dozens of brands from Clearasil to Cool Whip. Any favorites? You haven’t lived until you’ve seen a Cool Whip factory. Makes you want to dive in.

What book are you reading now? "The Tender Bar: A Memoir" by J.R. Moehringer ... although I always like to throw in a good trashy Hollywood book.

What is it now? I’m not telling you. It’s embarrassing.

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