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The Last Word
Brand Ambassadors

Insurers have created some of the world’s most recognizable advertising mascots. Neuroanalytics explains the science behind those effective branding tools.
  • Lori Chordas
  • July 2019
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In 1999, Geico created its tiny Cockney-accented gecko as a way to add humor to the not-so-jocular business of car insurance.

The following year the Aflac Duck debuted in TV and print ads and helped to propel Aflac from a successful regional company to one of the most globally recognized brands of insurance.

The advertising spokescreatures were recently named two of the most successful brand mascots of all time, according to Voices.com.

Over the years, those characters have engaged audiences, told their companies' stories and elevated the insurers into household names.

Geico's customer base climbed after the gecko's debut.

Aflac's name recognition soared to above 90% after the launch of its feathered friend, putting it on par with juggernauts such as Coca Cola and McDonald's.

Mascots, everything from humans portraying a character to anthropomorphized animals, have long been a staple in insurance, especially in the crowded personal lines space.

Not only can mascots breathe new life into a corporate identity, but they can also help insurers differentiate themselves from their competitors.

That's particularly effective through the use of anthropomorphic mascots, animals or inanimate objects with human-like characteristics, said Spencer Gerrol, founder and CEO of Spark Neuro. The startup, which was created in 2016 in Australia and fueled by investors such as Thiel Capital and actor Will Smith, uses neuroanalytics to measure emotion and attention to optimize advertising and entertainment.

“Humans are hard-wired to assign motivations, emotions and intentions to animals and inanimate objects, and they prefer giving life to something that looks more human,” Gerrol said. For instance, the Geico gecko's human-like features allow him to stand on two legs and use his fingers to give a thumbs up.

While the Aflac Duck lacks human-like features, “it connects with consumers by performing human tasks such as yoga and sitting at a desk flapping on a keyboard,” Gerrol said.

Aflac's spokesduck was the brainchild of New York-based advertising firm Kaplan Thaler Group. The firm, which was unfamiliar with Aflac before working with its client, conjured up the idea after one of its executives said the name “Aflac” sounded like a duck it heard quacking in a nearby park.

Spark Neuro studies brand effectiveness by using an electroencephalogram headset to monitor consumers' emotional response to ads. The device measures the electricity being released as neurons in consumers' brains, and it is paired with other tools that pick up consumers' eye movements, facial expressions and skin reactions.

“Attention levels are processed by very complex algorithms that we've spent years developing. That provides a moment-by-moment granular understanding of people's experiences as they consume content, and companies can then link emotional engagement response to purchase consideration,” Gerrol said.

He said it's also important to strike the right balance of physical attributes with a character that's “aesthetically appealing, endearing and unforgettable.

“There's nothing usual about a gecko being an insurance expert. But Geico has created a charming, memorable character that for years has drilled into our minds the need for auto insurance, so now we immediately make the connection with the brand and its product,” he said.

Creating a brand mascot is a long-term commitment, and companies need to think about it as a brand element with long-lasting value, Gerrol said. “We've seen many mascots come and go over the years, but mascots, like company logos, need to be representative of your brand for the long haul. They need to be timeless and have the ability to leverage the full value of what you can do for your brand,” he said.

 

Lori Chordas is a senior associate editor. She can be reached at lori.chordas@ambest.com.


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