Nationwide Strives to Stand Out in Exploding Insurance Category

Steven Schreibman Reveals What's Behind the Marketer's Movie Placements

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Who: Steven Schreibman, VP-advertising and brand management, Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co.
Movie placements, such as Nationwide's role in 'The Premonition,' represents a 'new kind of thinking' at the marketer.

Why you need to know him: As the once-staid insurance category continues to explode, with ad spending already past the $1 billion mark, Mr. Schreibman is looking for a few good movies, branded-entertainment opportunities and anything with major buzz potential. He is no stranger to making buzz happen, as evidenced by this year’s Nationwide Super Bowl spot, created by TM Advertising, Dallas, and starring Kevin Federline under the tagline "Life Comes at You Fast."

Credentials: Mr. Schreibman was director of marketing at Victoria's Secret before joining Nationwide three-and-a-half years ago.

Nationwide is seeking movie placement and will appear in two movies released this month, "Premonition" and "Blades of Glory." Why? "Media is fragmenting at a tremendous pace. The expenditure in the insurance-and-financial-services category is huge. So how, as a brand, do you stand out, and how can you [do so] in ways that are zap-proof? At Nationwide, whenever the customer touches us in any way, we want them to be rewarded, so that's why our ads have a certain level of entertainment value. So the product placement thing was just a logical next step."

So do the movie placements reflect a new kind of thinking at Nationwide? "Definitely. It's totally new for Nationwide. But you get right of first refusal and right of last refusal, so if a movie has elements in it that may not make your board comfortable or may not make your boss comfortable, you can certainly bow out. And you don't have to pay unless the movie meets your requirements going into it regarding placement."

So is it just sort of a "Why not?" "It's 'Why not?' and, over time, you could just hit the jackpot, you don't know. We have a very significant placement in ['Premonition,' a Sandra Bullock thriller that opened in third place at the box office this weekend with $17.5 million]. Sandra Bullock goes into her insurance agent's office to increase her life-insurance plan, and you see her. We made up a building to look like a Nationwide office, and we created a true Nationwide office on their set with all of our new retail materials and agent materials down to the coffee mugs. I haven't seen the film yet, so I'm hoping it's a very significant scene."

So you were talking about the right of first refusal and so on -- you don't get to see the final cut? "No, we don't have any say over the final cut, but at the same time, if our involvement is not up to our expectations, then we don't have to pay, either."

What is the placement in "Blades of Glory," a figure-skating comedy starring Will Ferrell and Jon Heder? "Nationwide is the sponsor of the final skating event. So there are Nationwide banners everywhere and signage."

What kind of branded-entertainment opportunities are you looking for? "For us, it's something that will be seen by the masses, or a very significant portion of the masses. We don't have as much money to spend in advertising as a lot of our competitors."

What is your annual budget? "I can't say."

OK, I know it is something like $100 million. "It's something like that, but Geico spends $500 million. They are all spending a ton of money."

So how do you determine where to spend when the budget is limited? "We are looking for things that are unique and interesting. We want to be as significant a part of the plot as possible. We also want to enter the lexicon, like Coca-Cola or a Pepsi-Cola or Marlboro, or any of those big, big brands. Nationwide is so much bigger than people think, and a lot of people just take its size for granted."
Movie placements, such as Nationwide's role in 'The Premonition,' represents a 'new kind of thinking' at the marketer.

How involved do you want to be in content creation? "We debate that almost weekly. It depends on the opportunity. You know -- god, I would love it if we were approached about something in our ads to make a sitcom, like what happened with Geico. That's, like, oh my god, nirvana. You know, I think everybody would like that, but it just has to happen; you can't plan it. I think that's the key -- you can't plan it. You can't plan what's going to hit and what isn't. You just can't. Something has to happen in the zeitgeist and in the ether to get people to come around something all at once. Right now we have people saying that their kids are running around the house saying 'Federline, fries!' and are running around imitating what they heard, and we didn't plan that to even be in the commercial."

You said you debate about how involved you should be in content creation. Why? "It could take over your life. When we did this thing with ['Premonition'], we had to build a set for this movie company. So we had to come up with the materials, we had to ship them. It took weeks and weeks. But if it makes it into the final film and it's significant, then that's a big win. So it's a lot of work."

What costs are you paying for placements? "Placements can range anywhere from $5,000 to $75,000."

Who is putting most of these together for you right now? "We work with a company called Motion Picture Magic in Hollywood, with the president, Mark Mills."

Have you had people approach you directly? "Yes, as our commercials have gotten more known, many more properties come to us and say, 'Can we use this for a show about this?' or 'Can we do this with that?' and, again, it becomes a lot, and it can take over your job."

What else is Nationwide involved in? "We just did an episode with the Gene Simmons VH1 show ['Rock School']. This particular episode took place at Camp Pendleton, near San Diego, with all these Marines and Iraq veterans, and Nationwide presented a check to the hospital. We had a Nationwide agent onstage with Gene Simmons."

Who are you targeting with some of your branded-entertainment efforts? "Our target audience is so broad. It's 18 to 80. I mean, everybody needs auto insurance. Everybody needs to be planning for their future. So for us, we are hoping at the end of the day, it all sort of balances out; we reach enough people at the right number of times. Certain properties like a Will Ferrell comedy are going to [target] a very specific demographic, but the trick is to win against that demographic, and you don't know what's going to take off and what isn't. 'Premonition' could be the biggest movie of the year or it could be the biggest flop, I don't know."

When you approach branded-entertainment deals, do you think it's futile to do an ROI measurement beforehand? "For us it's all about awareness. If we become part of the lexicon, then it will work."What other branded-entertainment opportunities besides movies are you looking for? "Right now it's movie and TV. That tends to be the most glamorous. Things that people can really get their heads around. If I can get some really good hits in those arenas, then I know that we have much more traction internally to do other kinds of things too, like maybe a live concert or tour that not everybody sees."

How did such a sleepy category like insurance find its members in a price war that explains some of the ad spending? How did that turn into branded entertainment? "Geico was the first brand to use humor in its advertising. Nationwide was the first brand to use humor around the calamity. We presented a calamity in a humorous light. We were the first ones to do that. No one was laughing at car crashes or housing blowing up or motorcycles bursting into flames. Now there's a little more wackiness. You're seeing a lot more wackiness by other competitors. I mean, I won't name any, but you see it. I think people are recognizing that it's OK to be out there in a way that is not sappy, cliche or pitying but in a way that's entertaining."

Even State Farm is trying to be funny now. "Our reason for being humorous was to help open up the dialogue. Nobody wants to talk about insurance or financial services. How can you do it in a way that's a little easier and a little less intimidating?"

What branded-entertainment deals do you want most? "'American Idol' -- I would love to do a live 'Life Comes at You Fast' ad with 'American Idol,' with the winner. But it's $40 million!"
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