Marketer A-List 2012

Agent of Change: How State Farm Used New Logo, Tagline to Stay Relevant at 90

Digital Makes Direct Appeal To Consumers To Convince Them They Still Need The Middleman

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At 90 years old, State Farm is looking anything but tired. The insurer has reinvented itself with contemporary marketing, smart digital initiatives and a newfound agility that has helped the company keep its dominant market position in the face of spirited competition from big-spending upstarts.

The changes come as State Farm, which was founded in 1922 by a retired farmer, faces the most-challenging period in its history. While the company has long used a traditional agent model, more drivers are relying on do-it-yourself rate shopping hyped by companies such as Geico and Progressive .

State Farm, on the other hand, was a "quieter, reliable sort of brand—and that isn't always the thing that gets you noticed," said Tim Van Hoof, assistant VP-marketing communications. So the company asked itself, "How can we still deliver the same core values, but do it in a way that 's maybe more modern?" he said. "We've gotta be in the mind of the consumer."

The results were campaigns and digital initiatives that make direct appeals to consumers, including messaging that seeks to convince drivers that they still need agents. In the process, the company downplayed its iconic "Like a Good Neighbor" tagline with a new campaign launched last year by Omnicom Group's DDB, Chicago, called "Get to a Better State." The ads promote service and value, including spots featuring NFL star Aaron Rodgers touting the "discount double check" that agents perform to make sure consumers are getting every possible discount. The phrase this year struck pop-culture gold as athletes everywhere began spontaneously doing Mr. Rodgers' "discount double check" dance. Another ad, called "Jake From State Farm," shows a suspicious wife confronting her husband as he talks on the phone at 3 a.m. Turns out he is talking to his insurance agent.

In a digital effort called "Chaos in Your Town," State Farm used Google Earth to allow users to make a video simulating an attack on any address entered (presumably their home). At the end, the app encourages people to "be prepared." In less than 12 weeks, users made 1 million personalized films, leading to more than 120 million impressions across social media, the company said.

State Farm also revamped its logo, removing the words "auto, fire, life" to emphasize that it offers a lot more services these days, such as State Farm Bank. And the marketing department is moving faster than ever. For instance, State Farm quickly arranged a sponsorship of a Gawker Tumblr site that the media company used after its main site went down in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. Mr. Van Hoof says the company has instructed its agencies to be "constantly looking and reaching out to partners." Kind of like a good neighbor.