Tuesday
Feb262013

Q&A: How State Farm Continues To Drive Its Game Plan With Rodgers, Paul, Sports

By Barry Janoff

February 26, 2013: Two of State Farm's best agents knew nothing about selling insurance until being hired by the Bloomington, Ill.-based firm.

Still, that hasn't prevented Aaron Rodgers, quarterback for the Green Bay Packers and MVP in Super Bowl XLV, from learning the intricacies of "Discount Double-Check." Nor has it stopped Chris Paul, All-Star point guard for the Los Angeles Clippers, from becoming so fanatic about assisting people that he enlisted the services of his "twin brother" Cliff to help.

Rodgers and Paul are not about to trade throwing passes and scoring points for a job explaining deductibles, comprehensive coverage, liability and personal injury protection. But they are currently at the forefront of marketing for State Farm, appearing in multi-media campaigns — Rodgers in "Discount Double-Check" and Paul in "Born to Assist," from DDB Chicago and Translation, NY, respectively — and also making personal appearances to help bring the humdrum yet complex category of insurance to a more accessible place.

Thanks to State Farm and Rodgers, the previously nondescript term, "Discount Double-Check," became one of the catchiest phrases of 2012. In a series of ads, Rodgers is upstaged by either his Packers teammates, including Clay Matthews and B.J. Raji, or kids during a school Career Day. And in every spot, he is mocked by someone decked out in a Green Bay cheese head, who yell at him, "Hey, Rodgers! Discount Double-Check!"

"Discount Double-Check" was also used in a baseball-themed spot that broke during the 2012 MLB All-Star festivities — which included the State Farm Home Run Derby — starring Kerry Wood and Andre Dawson and filmed at Wrigley Field. Between 2007-2012, State Farm and MLB donated millions of dollars to the Boys & Girls Club of America based on Home Run Derby performances. State Farm last year ended its official alliance with MLB (although it does have on-going team alliances) and will not be back as presenting sponsor for the Home Run Derby during the 2013 All-Star Game in New York's Citi Field this July.

The Paul-led campaign has given new meaning to "separated at birth," with both Chris and Cliff ultimately "born to assist." State Farm oversaw a giveaway of Cliff Paul mustaches and glasses during a Clippers game at Los Angeles' Staples Center, and broke a spot during the recent NBA All-Star weekend — which included All-Star Saturday Night presented by State Farm — in which Cliff Paul assists TNT hoops analysts Reggie Miller and Kenny Smith. Perhaps not by coincidence, Chris Paul was named MVP of the 2013 All-Star Game.

The Rodgers and Paul spots are running concurrent with such other State Farm marketing themes as "Jingle" (people sing the company theme to summon their agent) and "Fan Cam" (a State Farm agent and client do synchronized dancing during a game). Paul is also following in the footsteps of NBA star LeBron James, who appeared in State Farm ads for several years.

In addition to being an official partner for the NBA, State Farm's sports-related sponsorships include College GameDay Covered by State Farm on ESPN; a new iPad app, “NBA Game Time presented by State Farm," which accesses stats, video, scoring and game updates; naming rights to State Farm Arena, Hidalgo, Texas, which hosts the Central Hockey League's Killer Bees and the NBA D-League's Vipers; the State Farm Neighborhood Assist with the NBA; and 26 Seconds BMore, which works with athletes and educators to help prevent kids from dropping out of high school.

NYSportsJournalism.com spoke with Tim Van Hoof, assistant vice president of marketing communications for State Farm (and self-professed fan of the Green Bay Packers), about the impact of sports marketing on the company how that translates to the customers and communities in State Farm's reach.

NYSportsJournalism.com: What are the challenges you face in conveying what insurance is all about but using sports, entertainment and humor to do it?

Tim Van Hoof: That's a great question and something that we think a lot about. Insurance is something that people needed to have, that they have to have. But it is something that people really don't want to think about. It is a complex category. Very highly regulated by the government. Not something that people want to discuss or embrace. On the other hand, when you connect it to something like entertainment and sports, and add a little more excitement to the conversation, it is something that people will want to talk about. The challenge is to have an on-going, interesting presence that balances the entertainment and sports angles without making light of the subject.

NYSJ: If you look at others in the insurance category, the use of sports and entertainment is prevalent. So how do you differentiate the State Farm message from the competition?

TVH: If you look at the insurance category as a whole, the lines of insurance vary. With a lot of the competition, their messages tend to go far, far away from the product. It becomes something unrelated, not just from a brand level but also from a product level. But when we focus on auto insurance and have Aaron Rodgers talk about our 'Discount Double-Check, it is important to bring that back to how State Farm agents work to save customers money. The sports and entertainment side of it is important, whether it's using Aaron or, in our newest ads, Chris Paul to get the message out, or if we bring the message right into stadiums or arenas with sponsorship deals. But it always has to focus on the way State Farm agents are working for you.

NYSJ: Was State Farm surprised at how 'Discount Double-Check' became a catch phrase, even among people who are not customers, and was being mimicked by athletes who are not company endorsers?

TVH: [Laughs.] Even though that was a very strategic move, it also was, in part, a very happy accident. When we spoke with our agents about important messages they wanted to convey through advertising, our "Discount Double-Check" policy was cited [most often]. Basically, it refers to the fact that we double-check all policies to look for discounts we can provide to our customers, possibly if they are safe drivers, for example, of if they have home and auto policies with us. But we needed a way to convey that message in a way that would resonate with people. When we put Aaron Rodgers in [TV commercials], we were able to play off of his 'touchdown dance,' where he mimics putting on a championship belt after his team scores a touchdown, and turn that into the 'Discount Double-Check' move.

NYSJ: How did the alliance with Rodgers come about?

TVH: It is very important to us to work with athletes who we felt truly represented the brand. We're a fairly conservative brand, so we're very careful who we partner with. [In 2011], when we were looking to develop new creative, we already were in touch with Rodgers' agent. We loved how Aaron handled himself and how he was a leader on the Green Bay Packers. But we also knew that he is a bit of a prankster who doesn't mind poking fun at himself. We are a brand that is known for quality, but there also concerns from consumers about getting competitive rates. So when the creative discussions moved toward Discount Double-Check and how State Farm works hard to save money for our customers, it was almost like catching lightning in a bottle to marry Rodgers' touchdown dance move to a Discount Double-Check move.

"Whether it's using Aaron Rodgers or Chris Paul to get the message out, it always has to focus on the way State Farm agents are working for you."

NYSJ: Have you seen the marketing campaigns with Rodgers translate to an increase in brand awareness and an increase in State Farm policy purchases?

TVH: We don't have specific metrics tying Rodgers to an increase in State Farm policies. I can say that the volume of calls and the number of people requesting Discount Double-Check [information] are up significantly. And we have seen metrics that show our brand affinity and 'likability' have risen since the Rodgers and, more recently, the Chris Paul commercials have been airing. The commercials with Rodgers have been viewed more than three millions times at our YouTube page. And the first commercial with Chris Paul has been viewed nearly 700,000 times [since December].

NYSJ: The campaign with Paul seems to have spawned its own marketing cottage industry, with people wearing the glasses and mustache from 'twin' Cliff Paul. Was that, like the 'Discount Double-Check' situation, a happy accident?

TVH: It's interesting how that has happened. For us, it was a natural progression from discount double-check with Aaron Rodgers. When we were working with our agency, Translation, on this campaign, what we said was, 'How do we best convey the attributes of our brands, which is service and assisting people?' People in generally do not understand the intricacies of deductibles or the differences between collision and comprehensive coverage. That's what our agents and their teams are there for. So then we asked, 'How can be bring this to light ?' And because we also wanted to support our partnership with the NBA. we asked, 'How can we present this in an NBA environment?' The term 'assist' almost immediately came up, because it was such a key word in the NBA and for State Farm. So they came back to us with the idea of looking at the NBA's assist leaders, which brought us to Chris Paul. And that led to the 'Born to Assist' theme, separated at birth and on and on.

NYSJ: Chris Paul seems ready, willing and able to bring the Cliff Paul to life. Are you finding that people, like Rodgers, were generally unaware of his low-key comedic side?

TVH: When you find the right talent that makes sense from the company, the creative and the athlete sides, you tend go with it. I don't know everything about Chris Paul, but what he seems to be about as a person, and what he seems to be about on the court, really speaks to the message we are trying to convey. We asked him to be part of the creative discussions, and he was all about it. He came to the table with ideas and creative energy. We recently handed out Cliff Paul glasses and mustaches at a Los Angeles Clippers game in Staples Center, and [teammate] Blake Griffin wore them and [Clippers fan and actor/director] Billy Crystal wore them. And [Chris] was really supportive of that. We even have had people in the [corporate] office wearing Cliff Paul glasses and mustaches, so we are having fun with it.

NYSJ: During the NBA's All-Star weekend in February in New Orleans, there were some Cliff Paul sightings and a new TV spot with Cliff Paul and some of the analysts from TNT? How did that come about?

TVH: Chris was voted to the All-Star team, so he asked us if he could appeared [at events] dressed like Cilff. We even set up a shoot where Chris Paul interviewd Cliff Paul. (See it here.)He was totally into it. He wanted to bring Cliff to life. I would have to tell you that he pulled it off because the people who man our call centers and our agent offices were getting people asking if they could speak with Cliff Paul. And we spoke with the folks at TNT and the NBA about filming t a new commercial to have Cliff Paul work with Reggie Miller and Kenny Smith. It was a great collaborative concept, and it really blew up on Twitter and other social media.

NYSJ: State Farm is connected to college basketball and had a long relationship with MLB, in particular with the State Farm Home Run Derby, which has since ended. How important have those assets become?

TVH: That goes back to the original question about balancing sports and entertainment with the value messages of what State Farm is all about. We do a lot of creative testing, a lot of in-market testing. We monitor social media and feedback from the business community and business media. So when we get people talking about Aaron Rodgers or Chris Paul and saying they love the concept, or talking about College GameDay presented by State Farm, that helps us to make decisions about where or where not to direct our energy and finances.

NYSJ: Given all of this, are you finding that people are associating the creative with State Farm, or are they saying, 'I love the Rodgers, Chris Paul and Andre Dawson spots, but I don't remember the name of the company'?

TVH: That is something we are always are concerned about and well-aware of. It's a challenge. Whenever you use a celebrity or talent, you run the risk of being over-shadowed by them. And especially when there are other insurance companies that also use humor and celebrities to try to get their messages across. But the metrics we have gotten regarding Aaron Rodgers and brand awareness have been very good. And even though the Chris Paul campaign has been out only since Christmas, the early numbers we have seen on that also show that brand awareness is strong. With Rodgers, the numbers actually started out okay, but then built over time. I see the same thing happening as more people get to know Cliff Paul. We had Rodgers at an event for a group of State Farm agents recently, and he told us that the No. 1 thing that people ask him about is 'Discount Double-Check.'

NYSJ: Did he seem annoyed by that?

TVH: We truly believe that his association with us has helped to elevate his status as a pitchman. And he gets that. These guys do amazing things in their sport, but you wonder if they get irritated when people are calling out 'Hey, Rodgers,' 'Discount Double-Check' or 'Hey Cliff.' But these guys have embraced it. And, from our perspective, they have become associated with State Farm for all the right reasons. Whenever Aaron Rodgers shows up at an event, there is a connection between him and State Farm. Now, the goal is to continue the energy and the conversation for both Rodgers and Paul, and to make that connection even more in the eye of consumers. A big part of that has been social media, and I think we have been doing a good job of that with Chris Paul, even more so than with Aaron Rodgers and 'Discount Double-Check.'

"If people don't engage with the brand, buy from the brand, stay longer with the brand, then it's all been a lot of fun, but we've probably been wasting our money."

NYSJ: How important will Aaron Rodgers, Chris Paul and other sports marketing alliances be in 2013?

TVH: Let me put it this way: The entertainment has been great, and the positive side of working with Aaron Rodgers and Chris Paul has been strong. But I want to make sure that we look at it from a 360-degree standpoint. We also want to support our other efforts, such as the State Farm Neighborhood Assist with the NBA, where we provide grants to help improve communities; and the 26 Seconds BMore effort, in which we are working to decrease the number of kids who drop out of high school and increase the graduation rate. So there is the entertainment aspect in which we promote the concept of assisting, but there are also are efforts in which we assist that are not as glamorous and high-profile but have a strong impact.

NYSJ: What will be key to State Farm's marketing strategies?

TVH: We will continue to be diligent about driving the conversation and having some fun, but always coming back to moving the metrics in the right direction and understanding what the brand stands for with people. And with social media, it's all about having conversations and pushing the brand forward and creating more awareness and brand recognition. Ultimately, as much fun and as entertaining as it is to work with Aaron Rodgers and Chris Paul, its about the brand. If people don't get closer to the brand, engage with the brand, buy from the brand or stay longer with the brand, then it's all been a lot of fun, but we've probably been wasting our money.

State Farm Has Double-Vision With Chris/Cliff Paul

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