Insurance Ads Gone Wild – A Brief History

Pure genius. That was the phrase that came to mind when we clicked on the YouTube page for Liberty Mutual’s Young People commercial. It has 1.4 million plus views, half of which are probably from marketers who saw it on broadcast and then had to see it again. Have a look.


Kudos to the agency, Goodby Silverstein & Partners and the client for having a laugh at themselves. Insurance companies have been trying so hard to make ads that people want to watch, that it’s become a competition.


1999: GEICO Gecko Debuts

We can thank GEICO for breaking away from stuffy, artless ads with the advent of the GEICO Gecko which first aired in 1999. Originally targeting government employees, Government Employee Insurance Company (GEICO) had an image problem as they entered the broader market. Obviously they succeeded, because according to Ad Age, 98% of people recognize the GEICO Gecko.


With a running start, GEICO lead the way with quirky entertaining series TV campaigns including the caveman, the talking pig and the hump day camel.


2000: Aflac Duck Debuts

Shortly after the debut of the GEICO Gecko, another unexpected mascot appeared in our living room. The Aflac Duck voice by Gilbert Gottfried (RIP) became an instant hit in 2000. According to Yahoo! Finance, Aflac’s duck doubled its business in three years.



2008 Debut of Flo

Fast-forward to 2008 and we find the world of witty insurance ads ruled by humans, namely Flo. Who knew then that Progressive Insurance’s perky and quirky worker at a virtual insurance store would rule their advertising for 14 years and counting! The only downside is that Progressive must pay actress Stephany Courtney a lot more (reportedly $1 million a year according to Celebrity Net Worth) than they would a duck or an animated gecko.



2009: Professor Burke Debuts

Farmers Insurance sounded like something from the dustbowl era until it’s catchy “We are farmers…” jingle came into existence alongside esteemed actor J.K. Simmons playing the role of Professor Burke. He’s been at it for 14 years and 65 commercials.


Unlike the gecko and Flo, Professor Burke sells the need for insurance though the company’s long history of paying interesting claims. Basically it’s saying, when sh!t happens, you’ll be happy you have Farmers Insurance.


2010: Mayhem Debuts

In a similar but more visceral and in-your-face approach, Mayhem does the same thing for Allstate.


There have been many other off-the-wall insurance ad concepts since, but Mayhem takes our vote for the entertainment value of its shocking and hilarious action sequences and short storytelling. They are among the most memorable and re-watchable spots of all time as evidenced by the millions of views on YouTube. Long live mayhem and the joy he brings to insurance advertising.


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