A gruff pioneer and his harmonica-playing sidekick—a very 1880s-looking pair of characters—are transported to the present day in Cronin’s amusing, offbeat campaign for Modern Woodmen of America, a fraternal organization that provides financial services, including life insurance, to members.
Modern Woodmen embraces its offbeat name in quirky life insurance campaign
A 60-second hero spot features the characters, Pioneer and Cookie, sitting around a roaring fire, which travels with them as they pop up in modern settings—an office, a grocery store, a bowling alley, a child’s dance recital. Along the way, they marvel at a mother named Chloe, who’s juggling a career and family life, and who appreciates the kind of old-school values Modern Woodmen represents.
The spot was directed by Brian Billow of O Positive. The goal of the campaign is to grow the brand by connecting with American moms, who, the ad suggests, are the real modern-day pioneers.
Modern Woodmen has been around since 1883. Its founder, Joseph Cullen Root, named the organization after the pioneer woodmen who cleared forests to build homes and communities—which Root saw as a good metaphor for clearing away financial burdens for families.
The unusual name is an obstacle in some ways, but also an opportunity, as the company embarks on this first major branding campaign in its 140-year history.
“It’s such a quirky name. We spent time figuring out the best way to overcome that and create an emotional connection for the brand,” said Eric Silver, chief creative officer at Cronin.
“Our name is very peculiar. When you say ‘Modern Woodmen,’ it really doesn’t mean anything to people, and we want to change that,” Leah White, director of enterprise marketing and communications at Modern Woodmen, told Ad Age. “The perception of the brand is positive when people know us—but we need more people to know us. We’ve always joked that we’re the best-kept secret. That’s awesome unless you’re trying to actually build the business and grow.”
The client and agency decided early on to make moms the primary target of the campaign. Thinking of moms as pioneers, in a way that merged past and present, was a good way to bring the company name to life and give it meaning. (This extends to the tagline, “Modern since 1883.”)
“We all know women are making the big decisions in the household. We thought moms would relate to that pioneering spirit,” said Silver.
“We felt like the 25- to 45-year-old parent market is one where you have really high need for our products. They appreciate the value of our organization and the values we share,” said White. “It became very clear that moms are a critical piece when you’re looking at this parent market. They keep the schedule. They make things happen. They’re the modern-day pioneer.”
Billow, who has a background in comedy, struck the balance between lighthearted and informative, making the brand feel approachable and fun but not too silly.
“When people do know our brand, the key attributes they talk about are that we’re kind or caring or trustworthy. But we can have a little fun with it, too,” White said. “That’s not something traditionally we’ve leaned into or embraced, so it felt a little scary to some folks, but we think the time is right. It doesn’t feel like it degrades our brand. It’s not just slapstick humor, it’s smart humor.”
The media buy centers on connected TV. The campaign will also include podcast advertising, social media and a forthcoming influencer element. The work will run first in three markets—Southern California, Mississippi and North Carolina—before expanding nationally in 2024. Generating leads for the sales teams will be a primary metric the company will track, but data such as web traffic and social engagement will be important, too.
“We’ve never had the opportunity to scale out a media plan of this complexity, so it’s exciting,” White said. “It’s time to take ownership of the brand, strengthen our story and tell it in a way that’s compelling.”
Added Silver: “While many companies today are tripping over themselves to see who can be the most woke, with often disastrous results, we’re having a look at how long this company has been around, proudly doing business the way they’ve always done it.”