State Farm Looks to Update Image -- but Agent Spokesman Is Here to Stay

Q&A: No. 1 Player Thinks Web, Not Cavemen, Is Best Way to Up Youth Appeal

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State Farm's advertising account has stayed with the same ad agency, Omnicom Group's DDB, Chicago, for 65 years. The tagline "Like a Good Neighbor ..." is 35 years old. And it's been the No. 1 ranked auto-insurance provider by market share for 65 years.
Mark Gibson
Mark Gibson, assistant VP-marketing at State Farm

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In the booming category, where spending by the top four brands now tops nearly $1.4 billion a year, State Farm is the traditional player, a brand with the curse and blessing of being known as "your father's insurance company."

Despite the attention given to Geico, State Farm maintains a stronghold over the $162 billion auto-insurance category. Its lead is $10 billion ahead of No. 2 competitor Allstate. It boasts 41 million auto policies, 17,000 agents and $28 billion in premiums compared to the challenger brands Geico ($6.9 billion) and Progressive ($7.5 billion). It would take four Geicos to match State Farm's auto-insurance business.

Leading the State Farm brand, is 44-year-old Mark Gibson, who as assistant VP-marketing, oversees the company's 130 internal marketing team and manages the brand's nearly $270 million spend in auto-insurance advertising.

Mya Frazier: It's been said your customer base skews older. What are you doing to attract younger consumers?

Mark Gibson: I don't know if that's correct. Obviously, attracting the younger target has been something people in our space have been working on. Last August, we launched the site NowWhat.com. We are talking to young adults like they have never been talked to before. We are creating "insurance moments" and then we get them to interact with the brand online, something not expected because they do have the perception that we are a brand that's not necessarily for them, but for Mom and Dad. So far, it's been an awesome thing.

Ms. Frazier: You've said you plan to increase spending. What media channels will benefit?

Mr. Gibson: In this TiVo, DVR world, I'm making sure that our brand can break through, especially high-profile opportunities where our name can be attached to an event. ... We've announced a deal with Major League Baseball to be the title sponsor of the home-run derby. That's in combination with the one we inked last year with the NFL.

Ms. Frazier: Last year, you did a major deal tied to the release of Pixar's animated movie "Cars." Is there anything else in the works with Hollywood?

Mr. Gibson: "Cars" opened up our eyes, it engaged our agency and created a lot of excitement. We are just looking for the right opportunity. We've had no shortage of people coming to us.

Ms. Frazier: Are there efforts afoot to modernize the State Farm brand? Maybe get a spokesperson or character, considering this has worked so well at Geico?

Mr. Gibson: Throughout the years, we've used agents, celebrities and customers. But we've been consistent with the agent at the center and the agent as the spokesperson. The presence of the agent will be absolutely central to how we communicate with consumers.

Ms. Frazier: Are there any questions internally about whether it's time for a change to the tagline?

Mr. Gibson: We've tried to make the line contemporary and make the messaging more relevant around the line to make it fresh, but it's all about the way we do business.
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