Does State Farm Want to Take Over the World!?
January 7, 2011 6:34 AM   Subscribe

So, anyone seen the new State Farm commercials? The recent series stars a mid-30 something guy either walking into a coffee shop, browsing a news stand, waiting by the curb in a city where a server brings him some other ones...

What is going on in these commercials that I might be missing? I notice the common theme is...

1. They are all one long uncut, continuous shot, the one in the coffee shop is actually really well throughout - a lot is actually going on.

2. Some of the background extras clearly react to the spokesman, like the black guy with the newspaper - looks at the guy like hes bats, notices the camera....long stare....follows the viewer till the camera pans up into the shop; yet, others seem oblivious to everything. Is there a reason why some are singled out and other seem like puppets? Seems like there is something sinister going on Lost or something...

Whats the subliminal connection that these commercials are attempting to make? What do these people have in common, and more importantly how are they connected to me deciding to change my auto insurance (Which I wont do, because I actually, like mine)?

We don't believe that its as straightforward as that "neighbor" smattering of ethnicity...we also agree that subliminal is so 90's....but...
posted by TeachTheDead to Media & Arts (18 answers total)
It might be helpful for you to point us to the specific commercials. Here are their commercials. They seem to have several series running.
posted by Houstonian at 6:44 AM on January 7, 2011

I think that the only thing "going on" is that State Farm is trying to make their commercials eye-catching and intriguing. And clearly, it's working -- the amount of time you've been spending pondering what may be happening in their ads is all time that you've spent subliminally thinking about State Farm Insurance, and that's exactly what State Farm wants you to be doing, is remembering their name.

Some of the background extras clearly react to the spokesman, like the black guy with the newspaper - looks at the guy like hes bats, notices the camera....long stare....

Personally, this is my favorite part of those ads.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:05 AM on January 7, 2011

Best answer: I've noticed more commercials being tongue-in-cheek and meta. It's funny that the guy with the newspaper reacts the way he does (Stanley on The Office, anyone?) but you couldn't have everyone in the coffee shop reacting to the guy with the camera walking in because it would be distracting. It's an unusual style of commercial, but I don't think anything freaky or subliminal is going on. The commercials seem self-aware, and that's quirky and friendly, and embrace the everdayness of life, the "average Joe."

That being said, the spokesguy weirds me out in a Christian Slater/Josh Brolin creepy interrupting lovechild kind of way. The commercials do nothing for me, unlike watching President Palmer hawk Allstate.
posted by mostlybecky at 7:06 AM on January 7, 2011

Best answer: Whatever they are going for, it clearly misses and they clearly don't know it. Here's what Slate's "Ads We Hate" column says:

Speaking of horrible spokespeople, who picked this disturbingly handsome dude? I'm convinced he got the gig because of his overly pleased, Tom Cruise-ian dimples and equally Cruise-ian ability to shake his head while smiling ever wider. First, he disturbs countless cafe patrons by talking loudly about the state of the insurance marketplace. (Watch the seated guy at the beginning of the spot shoot the camera an annoyed look.) Then he rudely and repeatedly interrupts when a State Farm agent attempts to inform us about insurance options (which seems a rather counterproductive move within the context of a State Farm commercial). Why are we being directed to pay attention to this unidentified jerk who wants to hear himself talk, instead of to that State Farm employee who wants to help us buy coverage? It makes zero sense. They should tell Mr. Handsome to go away and redredge his dimples or something. [slate]
posted by The Bellman at 7:08 AM on January 7, 2011

Like this "Barista" commercial? They're just crummy, hokey commercials meant to remind you of our nice, happy, neighborhood melting-pot. But I guess it worked if it they got you to link to them and talk about them on the internet.

State Farm seem to be following the Geico model of having a few different styles of campaigns running concurrently, though—the "sing the jingle and your agent appears with a hot tub" one has a completely different tongue-in-cheek tone.
posted by bcwinters at 7:12 AM on January 7, 2011

The newsstand one beaks the fourth wall when the proprieter acknowledges the camera. I'm not sure what it's supposed to mean, my sense is that they are supposed to be memorable. I prefer the random chaos guy, but I can't even remember what company they are for.
posted by fixedgear at 7:12 AM on January 7, 2011

This spokesman is also bilingual, as I have seen these exact same commercials in Spanish (with him speaking his parts in Spanish) on GolTV/Univision/etc.
posted by kuanes at 7:36 AM on January 7, 2011

Best answer: What I beleive they're trying to get across is that you're part of a community -- "like a good neighbor" -- and you should talk to people around you about their insurance experience, and use that. My guess is showing a huge crowd and saying, "all these strangers have our insurance" is more offputting than "the guy who has similar experiences as you is probably one of our customers, as are most of the people in this commercial". It presents intimate views of people like you, in hopes of drawing you in.

My least favorite one is where the guy-who-sounds-like-Zach-Braff is standing on a street with an insruance agent, and he keeps interrupting her. LET THE PROFESSIONAL LADY SPEAK, DUDE!

(the random chaos guy is Mayhem, for Allstate, and he is awesome on an unbeilevable scale. Put him with President Pallmer and make a buddy cop show, I tell you what)
posted by AzraelBrown at 7:42 AM on January 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

I think the campaign is an attempt to create "buzz," to extend the ad beyond the boundaries of the ad-spot itself. They ask you, in a homey way, to first check with your neighbors about their company: this overt message suggests they have confidence in their product and a community-ethos. The effect they probably hope for is just getting people to talk about their product -- i.e., free advertising.
posted by keener_sounds at 7:53 AM on January 7, 2011

What is going on in these commercials that I might be missing?

I don't think I understand the question. What leads you to believe there is something going on in the commercials that you're missing?

Quirkiness for the sake of quirkiness is a pretty common advertising gimmick—especially today, when "going viral" is all the rage among marketing douches. Anything different or unusual will catch your attention. You'll mention it to your friends, link to it on MetaFilter, maybe post it on your blog, etc. All of this serves to better implant the brand into your consciousness—and, by discussing the commercials with others, you're helping to increase their reach and psychological capital beyond the actual airing.

There doesn't have to be any particular reason for, or meaning behind, the quirky elements—they just have to make the commercial stand out in your mind.

The Burger King commercials with the creepy King are a perfect example. I mean, even if Burger King didn't initially realize that the commercials were creepy as fuck (which I doubt), it quickly became evident that people found them creepy—yet they kept running the commercials. Why? Because they know that the whole time you're thinking about the creepy King, you're also (on some level) thinking about their burgers. And maybe you'll think "gee, a Whopper sounds really good right now", and head to the nearest drive-through. And the advertising will have fulfilled its purpose.

The State Farm commercials are slightly creepy in their fake-smile, canned-whistling corporate cheeriness, yes—but that's true of most advertising, I think.
posted by ixohoxi at 8:04 AM on January 7, 2011

I'll look around for an article specifically about how they were made but it is either a happy accident or made to look like a happy accident. Like this guy is walking around and things are happening and they liked the way it came out. Some of the people walking around seem to not be actors, or they are written to come across that way. "Stanley" as mostlybecky says, is either not an actor and signed an agreement afterward, or he's written to look like he's not an actor and signed an agreement afterward. I bet it was someone's quirky idea (to have some people be actors and some not) or it just happened and they liked it that way.
posted by cashman at 8:07 AM on January 7, 2011

The thing about insurance ads is that they aren't about selling the insurance, because basically all insurance companies provide a bazillion different products that are more or less the same.

So what insurance ads are trying to do is sell a name and an image. Geico is fun! With the lizard, and the cavemen! Progressive is laid-back and has lots of choices, as Perky Flo tells us! Esurance is high tech and futuristic with a sense of humor and a cute animated heroine! Allstate is solid, and Dennis Haysbert says so (he's not a president, but he played one on TV!)

So yeah, you remember State Farm for their weird meta commercials. It's a big switch from their old folksy image architecture ("Just like a good neighbor, State Farm is there") and apparently it works on you, at least.
posted by Sidhedevil at 8:10 AM on January 7, 2011

Response by poster: Wow....good answers....good thoughts...
posted by TeachTheDead at 8:11 AM on January 7, 2011

Best answer: Draftfcb is the agency that does the commercials. Here's an AdAge article that discusses the commercials and their aims.
"Mark Gibson, State Farm's assistant VP-advertising, said the goal is to confront the "sea of sameness" of pricing claims in the category by emphasizing that State Farm has competitive prices and an industry-leading market share for a reason. "

""People are being prompted to shop all the time in our category," said Mr. Gibson. "There has to be affordability, but it's just one component of value, along with service and best-in-class agents."

The "discount double-check" work is the first creative assignment for DraftFCB, which has been handling direct-marketing chores for much of the decade. People familiar with the matter said the idea for the campaign sprung from data-driven insights that came from the direct work. "
The full article has more info. The actor is Eddie Matos.
posted by cashman at 8:38 AM on January 7, 2011

Well the tagline is that they have many more clients than Geico and Progressive combined. The variety of ethnicities is supposed to sell that. Plus they tell you to ask neighbors and friends who have the service.

Frankly, the ad is disengenous. They want you to believe they have 'discounts' of over 40%. Discounts off what? By saying GEICO and Progressive in the ad, you hopefully will think they are cheaper than those brands. But in reality, they are far more expensive. Notice they don't tell you to comparison shop.

Its almost as bad as Verizon's terrible ad from 2009-2010 where they ask if Comcast gives you over 150 hd channels and 100 rebate? The answer is no and they want you to draw the conclusion that Comcast offers less HD channels than Verizon. It's a compound sentence people! Comcast actually offers more HD, but they don't offer a $100 rebate.

Luckily it brought a funny response--the Jeopardy styled game show "You Would Think Comcast Has Less HD But They Have More."Despite the title of the game show, idiot contestants would always answer Verizon or Direct TV and be buzzed out.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:45 AM on January 7, 2011

Best answer: Looks like its inspired by "the way Hispanic families shop." More from Adage, via the draftfcb blog:
"We said, let's not think of the campaign in traditional silos, with separate general market and ethnic," Mr. Muench said. "We told State Farm, 'we want to lead with these ethnicities."

The campaign grew out of a research project into how people really feel about other ethnic groups, and the subconscious associations they make when shown pictures of families of different races. The findings: the Hispanic family was seen as the most credible and community-oriented, and the most "real," while a white family was the least believable, and would have evoked the least emotional engagement if cast in a commercial, Mr. Muench said.

State Farm chose to cast an engaging young Hispanic man, who is completely bilingual and bicultural. He moves effortlessly in and out of about 20 commercials, the majority airing in the general market. The Hispanic spots are more likely to feature a State Farm agent, and some are in Spanish. The African-American-focused commercials feature more black characters. But the central message -- go check with your friends and neighbors about their car insurance, then come talk to us at State Farm -- is inspired by the way Hispanic families shop.

"We flipped the whole dynamic, and that's the direction we're heading with a lot of our clients," Mr. Muench said.
Again, there's more at the link.
posted by cashman at 8:49 AM on January 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

I always find that guy just so annoyingly pleasant (or pleasantly annoying). The cafe ad in particular is kind of weird from a marketing standpoint because it's so active and busy, I never pay attention to what the spokesman is saying.

But I think the theme of the campaign is that the spokesman is a little batty, and people around him see it, but he's oh so sincere in his love of State Farm Insurance. It could be a subtle meta-satire of similar commercials, in which a smiley spokesman talks to a camera, articulately hawking a service, and no one even notices.

And there is no way that black guy in the beginning isn't an actor. He's got this too-hilarious "Who is this guy?" look, instead of a puzzled "What the? What's going on? Why is this camera here?" look. And everyone else in the ad is obviously acting too, so I doubt that guy would've been served by people who were also preparing to shoot a commercial, where everything is so choreographed and timed.
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing at 11:53 AM on January 8, 2011

Oh, and as far as why not everyone acknowledged him, I think a few people do just to establish that this a real guy interacting in a real environment, but if it went too far and everyone was starting and tripping over themselves, it'd just get too distracting.
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing at 11:58 AM on January 8, 2011

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