By Barry Janoff
April 17, 2012: MetLife has been thinking and activating out of the traditional insurance box for decades. Since 1985, the company has as its spokespersons Snoopy, Charlie Brown, Lucy and the gang from Peanuts; and has operated a blimp at sports events since 1987. In 2011, the firm signed a 25-year naming rights to MetLife Stadium in New Jersey — home of the NFL's Giants and Jets and, in 2014, site of Super Bowl XLVIII — valued at upward of $500 million. And this past February, MetLife ran its first Super Bowl spot.
The commercial, "Everyone," has had more than 500,000 views at YouTube and more than 215,000 "likes" on the company's Facebook page, where visitors can get list of the entire cast. In addition to the Peanuts gang, the spot also features the Scooby-Doo gang, Mr. Magoo, Casper the Friendly Ghost, Quick Draw McGraw, The Jetsons, Richie Rich, Top Cat, Speedy Gonzalez, Pepe Le Pew, Marvin the Martian, Mr. Peabody and (his boy) Sherman, Magilla Gorilla, Underdog, Atom Ant, Voltron, Honk Kong Phooey, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe and many others. (See the full spot here.)
NJYSportsJournalism spoke with Richard D. Hong, MetLife vp-Global Brand & Marketing Services, about the on-going affects of the company's Super Bowl XLVI commercial, which starred more than 50 animated characters, and how activation in 2012 will build excitement for and interest in the company leading to Super Bowl XLVIII.
NYSportsJournalism: Even though MetLife has been using Charlie Brown, Snoopy and other characters from Peanuts, did the company consider it a risk for an insurance company to tie itself so closely to comic strips and cartoons and possibly bring too much humor to the category?
Richard Hong: Having spent my whole career in advertising, I have to tell you that it's a very subjective profession. You tend to run into a lot of different creative opinions and many people who fancy themselves as experts for our field. There is a plurality of opinions on things like this. It has been incredibly well-received in the company. We've monitored all of the social chatter on the spot and it has been overwhelmingly positive.
NYSJ: How did MetLife justify spending $3 million just for the 30-seconds of airtime in addition to what it cost to put the commercial together?
RH: It wasn't just the TV spot. Leading up to the Super Bowl, we took over the Facebook pages of 13 of these characters. And they started to post messages: 'Where are you going to be for the big game?' 'You might see some friends of mine.' And during the game we hosted on our Facebook page a virtual Super Bowl party where we brought the characters together. We had our ad agency, Crispin Porter + Bogusky, actively post as different characters throughout the game and interact with visitors. That was another way to bring these characters together. During the days prior to the Super Bowl in Indianapolis, [MetLife CMO] Beth Hirschorn and I did more than 40 interviews. And we had an 18-foot high ice sculpture of Manhattan skyline icons, including the MetLife building and Snoopy. So we found different ways to extend the life of this 30-second commercial.
"It has this incredible power to delight. So we said, Okay, let's swallow the licensing fees for all of these characters and let's do it."
NYSJ: How did the Super Bowl commercial come about and what has been the response to the commercial internally?
RH: We had been designing a new ad campaign for several months prior to the Super Bowl. We actually initiated it during the summer. The big idea behind the campaign that we launched during the Super Bowl is that we are rededicating ourselves to being the kind of company that removes the barriers that keep people from achieving financial security. The really interesting thing to us as we developed the campaign is that when we spoke to consumers, we were surprised to hear the uniform extent to which they agreed that insurance is something that is actually good! We are interested in it and we would love to have it! But they told us that it was too expensive, or too confusing. The part of it being too expensive is actually a broad misconception. Getting insurance has never been cheaper or more affordable. And with respect to some of the other barriers that consumers were encountering, we are hard at work at becoming a more customer-centric company and trying to reduce or eliminate some of those barriers.
NYSJ: How did the link between selling insurance and using cartoon the plethora of characters come togethers?
RH: As we developed the campaign, we came up with a novel idea to bring together different cartoon characters from different eras to join our beloved Peanuts characters in a big statement about how financial security in the United States should really be for everyone. Inclusive of all. As a visual metaphor of that idea, we thought the [wide range of cartoon characters] worked very well. At every stage, when we presented the concept internally and to focus groups across the country, it had this incredible power to delight. So we said, Okay, let's swallow the licensing fees for all of these characters and let's do it. It was at that point when we realized that this could be big enough, an authentic statement about MetLife, that we should look for the biggest stage possible to launch this. And what could be a bigger stage than the Super Bowl.
NYSJ: Was there a time when you were just going to add a few characters to the Peanuts cast but continued to grow from there?
RH: It was always Think Big! In the final commercial, there are 56 characters other than our own from Peanuts. We actually started with more characters. We scaled back a bit, but it was more a situation of having to make alternative choices. Some of the characters we wanted to use were already licensed to other big projects. For example, we wanted to use The Flintstones, but they are coming back as a Fox show [from executive producer Seth MacFarlane] and were not available. The Smurfs are part of a rebooted movie franchise. So we had to find replacements.
NYSJ: Was part of the plan to have people go over the commercial as many times as possible to actually name all of the characters?
RH: That's what is great about this concept. And why we could feel so good about running it during the Super Bowl. We turned that 30 seconds into a much longer consumer-engagement concept, with people watching it later on YouTube and elsewhere. We've heard from many people who watched the commercial many times just to identify all of the characters. We even got e-mails during the game telling us that they have been re-watching the commercial at Super Bowl parties and that they missed part of the game.
NYSJ: What were some of the more interesting responses you have heard or read?
RH: In order to inspire the revisitation of the commercial, we imbedded Waldo in five different places throughout the spot. Some of the chatter online has been about trying to find Waldo all five times. People also liked seeing Daphne [from Scooby-Doo] but they wanted to know why she was getting out of Richie Rich's car!
NYSJ: This commercial seems to have roots in Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988), which used cartoon characters from many competing production companies. How massive a headache was it to get the companies to work together and to secure all of the licensing rights?
RH: Each of the interactions you see in the commercial had to be proposed and approved. We had to run every detail of every frame of the commercial through the licensing houses. In fact, we had to license certain sound effects, such as the sound effect of The Jetsons' rocket car. The final commercial speaks for itself. Overall, the companies were very enthusiastic, incredibly cooperative. A lot of the drawing happened during a truncated period during the holidays. It was a win-win for everybody because their characters got exposure, and our brand gets injected with some of that energy . . . In many of the post-game ad polls and reviews, we finished in the top third, even higher, which is tremendous for an insurance company.
NYSJ: How has that commercial led to other marketing in 2012?
RH: The Super Bowl commercial was our signal to the world that something big is happening at MetLife. It introduced our tag line, 'We can do this.' In the spots afterward, on TV and in digital efforts, we have sought to explain what we mean by 'I can do this' in a financial context. In one, Schroeder has anxiety performing on his piano in front of a large audience. Then he takes that first step. Then we get into more tactical situations. We built a game online in which you can assume the role of Schroeder and you have to play the piano using your keyboard to show that you can do this.
A commercial in which Lucy and Charlie Brown believe that everything should cost a nickel demystifies the misperception that life insurance is too expensive. Another shows that you can buy a term-life policy over the phone. And one breaking in April about our biggest and best offer of all — a new proprietary application system called Single Session, which allows qualified customers the ability to go online and actually purchase an underwritten policy and have life insurance by the time you log off. Ten minutes. It's incredible. And no one else has that.
NYSJ: Any immediate impact on brand recognition?
RH: We run a weekly Brand Tracker. In the weeks before the Super Bowl we took some baseline measures. In the weeks after the Super Bowl, our figures for having memorable advertising went up six percentage points, people who recalled seeing advertising from MetLife went up 12 percentage points. And when asked about lifer insurance advertising, MetLife was recalled by more than 20% of adults, which also was up from pre-Super Bowl. So it's all tracking in the right direction.
NYSJ: What are your major sports marketing plans for this year?
RH: Our official aerial photography designation of the PGA Tour with the MetLife blimp will continue. We have a full schedule this year on CBS and NBC. We continue to be sponsors of the New York Yankees Player of the Month award, which this season will be brought under the 'I can do this' theme.
And what you will see this fall at MetLife Stadium is the full build-out of our permanent space at what was formally called the West Game. We've got some very cool plans for what that space will look like. We have some very interesting on-site activations being planned. For example, we will have a full-size, game-legal field goal post on a mini-field outside of MetLife Stadium, where we will invite people to attempt to make a regulation point-after attempt. And we will take footage and award prizes to people who are successful. So we are adopting the line and the spirit of the line in as many activities as it makes sense.
NYSJ: Any decision yet on running a commercial during Super Bowl XLVII?
RH: We are definitely contemplating it. It was really the idea that led to the media placement, not the other way around. So we will take that same approach.
"It has the potential to be the most-watched Super Bowl ever. People will be very curious to see how New York City hosts a Super Bowl."
NYSJ: Any early plans for Super Bowl XLVIII at MetLife Stadium?
RH: It has the potential to be the most-watched Super Bowl ever. People will be very curious to see how New York City hosts a Super Bowl, how the weather will affect the game . . . We are thrilled in having a role in helping to host the game. I would say we just started to have discussions on how we might activate. But there is nothing concrete yet.
NYSJ: How does the MetLife deal for naming rights and other similar naming rights sports deals reflect on the economy?
RH: I hope it says something positive about the economy. But when we did our naming rights deal, we were in a unique position. We are a global company but we are a company based in New York. This is where the company was founded. The uniqueness of having a venue that is home to two NFL teams. And we were so financially strong. The fact that the stadium had no public financing needed to build it. A lot of the stars lined up. And to have one of your home teams win the Super Bowl, and the celebrate at the stadium, really showed us that we had made the right move.