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In 1810, the Hartford Fire Insurance Co. began to place text-heavy ads in both local and regional newspapers declaring its charter, purpose and trustworthiness, a straightforward approach it continued to use for several decades.

One Hartford Fire ad from 1837 emphasized the company's age and financial soundness. "This institution is the oldest of the kind in the state," said copy in the ad. "It is incorporated with a capital of 150,000 dollars, which is invested and secured in the best possible manner."

But by the 1920s, Hartford Fire abandoned those ads for a more emotionally charged approach that came to be common among most insurance advertisers. Hartford Fire introduced twin themes of fire and fear in 1925 in its "Grim Reaper" campaign.

Created in-house and run in magazines such as The Saturday Evening Post, it featured a cloaked Grim Reaper who warned of the damage fire could cause. "An unhappy New Year to you!" read one ad, "That's fire's New Year message to property owners." Beneath it, the smirking reaper, skeletal fingers intertwined, leaned forward on a counter, as though confiding in the reader. Above him was a quote: "I am Fire. I am Destruction. I am Loss." Beneath him was Hartford Fire's moniker.

Hartford Fire's dour tack—in ads created by N.W. Ayer & Son in the 1930s and 1940s—helped it grow from a regional business into one of the first nationally recognized insurance companies in the U.S. where, early in the century, rampant fires were a common destructive calamity.

In the 1950s, Hartford Fire switched to Marschalk & Pratt, and in a 1980 TV campaign developed by Marschalk's successor, McCann-Erickson Worldwide, the insurance marketer introduced a stag, depicted on the front walk of a suburban home and behind the locked gate of a business to reassure consumers that the company, then known as "The Hartford," would protect what it insured.

Animals in advertising

Animals first came to the fore in insurance advertising in the 1950s, echoing the change in insurance advertising as positive associations replaced negative appeals, such as the Grim Reaper.

One insurer in particular, Metropolitan Life Insurance Co., was linked to cartoon animals. In 1985, Metropolitan Life launched its first "Peanuts" campaign on TV and in print via Young & Rubicam. Although the ads resonated in particular with baby boomers, who grew up reading Charles Schulz's daily comic strip, they also gained recognition among a younger age group. Metropolitan Life also built much of its Internet advertising and branding strategy around "Peanuts," using Snoopy throughout the company's Web site.

Another popular animal-centric ad campaign was launched in 2000 by AFLAC. The $40 million AFLAC duck campaign, created by Kaplan Thaler Group, New York, is among the most aggressive by a supplemental insurance company. (Supplemental insurance is targeted at businesses, to be included as a payroll option.) Following the duck dffort, AFLAC's name recognition jumped to 71% in 2000, up from 2% in 1990.

"The Quiet Company"

In 1972, Northwestern Mutual and its agency, the J. Walter Thompson Co. introduced a national TV campaign themed "The quiet company" to boost the insurance company's national presence. The regional insurer made its first major TV media buy as a corporate sponsor of the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, which took a tragic turn when terrorists attacked the Israeli team. Some 90% of homes with TV sets across the U.S. tuned to ABC's coverage of the attack and also saw "The Quiet Company" campaign.

Northwestern Mutual's $1.4 million media buy ended up gaining the company recognition worth many times that figure. Bolstered by its success, Northwestern Mutual in 1976 spent $2.5 million in advertising, a good deal of which went to sponsorship of the Montreal Games.

Trading on trust

Allstate Corp.'s best-known campaign is centered on the idea of misfortune, which, for better or worse, is inseparable from insurance. Its "You're in good hands" slogan first appeared in magazine ads in 1950. Soon thereafter, Allstate launched its first TV spots, with actor Ed Reimers as spokesman, targeting young men with new families. While the "You're in good hands" slogan was mentioned, the spots emphasized the affordability of Allstate's policies. Other spots focused on Allstate's individual insurance products, casting Allstate as one of the first full-service insurers in the U.S.

The sketch of the sheltering hands in Allstate advertising has changed little as of the beginning of the 21st century. The "You're in good hands" slogan also has endured, as has the insurer's relationship with Leo Burnett Co., which continued to handle Allstate's advertising into the 21st century.

State Farm Insurance Cos. has used "Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there" from Doyle Dane Bernbach (later DDB Worldwide) for decades. The strategy casts State Farm as a local agency, which proved valuable to the company when rivals abandoned regional strategies to focus on national or global ones. The slogan was first used in 1971 in TV and radio spots.

Similarly, Nationwide Financial Services has relied on the same theme for decades. Its "Nationwide is on your side" tagline underwent various incarnations under different ad agencies—from Ogilvy & Mather in the 1960s to Ketchum Advertising to Temerlin McClain in the 1990s.

New York Life's "Cityscapes" campaign, from Berlin, Cameron & Partners, depicts historical events unfolding with New York Life's own history set against them. In one spot, a group of 1960s-era executives gather around a TV set in an office in New York Life's Park Avenue tower to watch the astronauts land on the moon.

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