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How to Out-Buzz the Big Spenders in Insurance Advertising

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Liberty Mutual’s Responsibility: What’s Your Policy? television ad campaign has enjoyed great success on television, generating lots of buzz for the company.

The campaign has earned free publicity including mentions on The Tonight Show and MSNBC.

But the Boston-based insurer wants the responsibilty campaign to be about more than television images.

Steve Sullivan, senior vice president of communications at Liberty Mutual, one of the people responsible for the campaign, thinks the responsibility theme taps into a yearning to get beyond the prevalent pop culture of “do it if it feels good” that U.S. companies seem to assume people use in their thinking and their buying.

“[W]hat we were seeing bubbling up in America is a backlash to the celebration of celebrity excesses, not taking the responsibility for anything and people are outraged,” he suggests. “Look at this recent sad example of the elderly man in Hartford Connecticut who was hit by a car, a hit and run driver, and nobody stopped to help the guy. The country is in an uproar about this, if you check the blogosphere and check the news outlets. People don’t want that kind of behavior. They want …people in the world to take responsibility for their every day actions. And they want to live in a better world.”

A better world may lie ahead but Liberty Mutual today lives in a very competitive world populated by Geico, Progressive and other big auto insurers that are not afraid to spend big on advertising. Sullivan says the success of the ad campaign presented an opportunity to compete with the expensive advertising efforts of competitors without breaking the bank. It got the insurer thinking how it could get even more people talking about responsibility, using not only TV but also popular social networking and Internet technology. This kind of thinking led to The Responsibility Project.

“T]he Responsibility Project was really born out of an acknowledgement that particularly auto insurance is a highly competitive category and competitors are spending hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars. So we said, well, let’s not try to out shout them. Let’s see if we can out buzz them. And sling shot our brand around them. Let’s use the viral power of the Internet to try to create meaningful relationships with customers, with prospects before they become customers,” recalls Sullivan.

The Responsibility Project includes a a Web site (www.responsibilityproject.com) featuring a series of short films, various resources, community project ideas and a blog all addressing what it means to do the right thing.

One of the films, “Growing Up,” explores what kids can teach adults about doing the right thing. The teaser for another, “Transit,” offers this scenario: “A man is just another passenger on a bus until he comes face to face with a thief. And a choice.”

The site includes a section with discussion questions to consider after viewing the films.

The blog uses current events as a teaching tool. “Pro Sports: Game of Second Chances?” by Kathy McManus relays the story of baseball player Josh Hamilton who overcame drug addiction to become a Major League All Star and compares his experience to those of Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and Marion Jones who have become associated with cheating. Does every fallen sports hero deserve a second chance? asks McManus.

In another, McManus, citing reports on another Web site about a mother being attacked and the fear some mothers feel, asks if mothers should carry guns.

After just a few months, the web site has received about a quarter of a million visitors to the site, according to Sullivan. Half of them have watched the films; half of them have read the blogs.

While the project seeks to capitalize on the viral nature of the Internet, Liberty Mutual isn’t abandoning TV. The project also encompasses a partnership with NBC Universal to produce two made-for-TV movies on the topic of personal responsibility. These will begin to air in February of 2009.

Its creators see The Responsibility Project as a way to give prospects something of value even before they have a relationship with Liberty Mutual. “Sort of like having a series of good dates before proposing marriage,” Sullivan quips.

Sullivan is obviously pleased with the buzz thus far.

“We’re at the very beginning of this project and we expect the ramp up to be relatively slow. Although, frankly, it’s been a little faster than we even dared to imagine. So, stay tuned.”

Of course, Liberty Mutual is not a charitable organization and buzz alone doesn’t pay salaries or claims. So the responsibility campaign also has to be measured by its success in driving new and good business in addition to good feelings.

Sullivan accepts the responsibility.

“[T]his is not about a public service campaign or being a do-gooder,” he says. “We like responsible people. We like responsible people because they make great customers. On the consumer side they are the people who take care of their homes and drive safely. They are people who do the little things that insure their own safety and security. They lock their house and their car doors. They change the batteries in their smoke alarms. They fasten their seatbelts. In the business world, they are the people who make sure that grapes don’t fall on the floor in the grocery store so that people don’t slip and fall. And that their workers feel assured of coming to work in a safe environment.

“So, these are really good customers for us. And we believe that relating to them along a value that they hold dearly will just make more of them want to do business with us.”

Stay tuned.

[Sullivan discusses the popular ad campaign, and its Internet spin-off project, in an interview with Insurance Journal’s Andy Simpson. Excerpts form the interview may be viewed on insurancejournal.tv at

Liberty Mutual’s Personal Responsibility Campaign, Take 1: Customer and Employee Research

Liberty Mutual’s Personal Responsibility Campaign, Take 2: Creating Values-Driven Relationships

Liberty Mutual’s Personal Responsibility Campaign, Take 3: Out-Buzzing the Big Spenders]


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