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21st Century Group Chases Aflac and Geico With More Entertaining Commercials

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SAN FRANCISCO ( -- Following competitors Aflac and Geico, 21st Century Insurance Group is ramping up the entertainment quotient of its advertising. But instead of a lizard or a duck, however, it will be using famous Hollywood car crashes as its new brand icon.
Famous car chase and crash scenes from movies like 'The French Connection' will be used to illustrate 21st Century Insurance's smashing good service.

As part of a new campaign, the low-cost, direct-to-consumer auto and personal insurance provider is taking a risk most insurers avoid: showing serious car crashes in its advertising. But these accidents are not the everyday fender-benders. They come in the form of classic Hollywood crash scenes that show what happens to the unfortunate bystanders whose cars are wrecked in the famous films.

'French Connection'
For the first spot, a man whose car was demolished in 20th Century Fox's 1971 film The French Connection walks to a phone booth and says, "Hello, 21st? You're not going to believe this."

The ad's production of the chase scene, which was re-created in Los Angeles with the installation of faux elevated subway pillars, involved a long search for a vintage white Ford Fairlane 500 that matched the car in the film, down to the scratches in just the right places. It also required tracking down a cinematographer who knew exactly what type of camera and lenses to use to perfectly match new footage with the original.

A legal requirement that the copyright line and the name of the film be shown in the commercial was used as a device to introduce the footage for those who didn't remember or are too young to recognize the crash.

Bus crash from 'Speed'
For the next 21st Century spot, involving footage from Fox's 1994 action movie Speed, director Jan de Bont agreed to re-create the insurer's pitch scene that stars the film's bus smashing through rush-hour traffic.

Speed director Jan du Bont said the making of the commercial actually gave him an opportunity to remedy something in the original film which in hindsight he would have liked to have depicted: the look on the faces of the tow truck operator and others as they see the speeding bus coming toward them. In the 21st Century spot, you can see the operator close up, he said. "They are people who belong" in the movie, he said.

About the concept for the spots, he said, "I wondered how come nobody ever has done this before."

Also expected to appear in the ad campaign: a scene from Paramount Pictures' The Italian Job.

Dailey & Associates
The campaign is the work of 21st Century's new ad agency, Interpublic Group of Cos.' Dailey & Associates, West Hollywood, Calif., an agency with a long history of Madison & Vine projects. Agency chairman Cliff Einstein, brother of Albert Brooks, often incorporates celebrities into the shop's ads.

Joe Stanley, head of production, said that once the creative department decided on the campaign's concept, the agency focused on 30 possible crashes in films and TV shows. The shop's business affairs department contacted the individual studios behind the films and arranged for use of the footage. Agency executives declined to discuss the cost of obtaining rights to the films, saying each was negotiated on a case by case basis.

High interest in Hollywood
"We found a lot of interest out there" among Hollywood talent on the original film for the re-creations, said Mr. Stanley.

Not all big crashes made it to the 21st Century party. Some studios turned down the request, "saving themselves" for something else, Mr. Stanley said. Some famous crash scenes, such as those involving the Dukes of Hazzard, were rejected because a Confederate Flag is painted on the TV show car's roof. The agency avoided the expense of showing famous actors in the clips it used, but ended up having to pay royalties to stunt drivers who appeared in the original footage.

21st Century has 850,000 customers, primarily in California, but is in the process of expanding nationally and now operates in Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Texas.

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