State Farm: A Classic Brand Connects With Young Adults (and everyone else, too)

The Millennial marketing case history I have been impatiently waiting for finally appeared. This week at the CMO Executive Summit in Chicago. Pamela El, VP Marketing for State Farm Insurance knocked it out of the park with her presentation on how a nearly 100-year old brand reinvented itself for a new generation. The presentation was so insightful I couldn’t write it all down fast enough.

But here was the biggest insight: By reinventing themselves for Millennials, State Farm may in fact have just reinvented themselves for the rest of us, too.

The Problem

State Farm is the largest car insurance company for young adults, but a few focus groups were enough to convince the company that among this target, the brand’s user  image didn’t align with reality. Many young adults didn’t even know who their insurance carrier was! And those who knew of State Farm didn’t think it had anything to say to them. The company knew that if their brand didn’t become more relevant soon, they would not survive the next 100 years.

Armed with that conviction, El set out to ‘learn how to have a conversation with young adults’ — no small undertaking in a world where she practically has to clear her own name with the ‘compliance’ department every day. As she put it, “you can’t let your corporate hat get in the way of how you should talk to young adults’.

The Solution

Working with NY-based agency, Translation, LLC, Pam El executed a multi-platform campaign based on a new TV-campaign (yes, TV!!) designed to increase awareness and become a part of youth culture. The spots are smartly written. Each features the iconic State Farm jingle, now endowed with magical powers to resolve any stressful situation. Just sing the song and magically, ‘State Farm is there!’.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SauUa5Z4Ihw&feature=relmfu

All the spots can be viewed on a special Facebook page, StateFarmNation.com, where viewers can also explore alternative endings and vote on their favorites.

TV spots and the Facebook page were just the beginning.  Sponsorships like College Game Day, TV specials, and rewards for playing games embedded in interactive online banners extended the fun.  When commercial parodies started to appear on Youtube (50 so far, with 1.5 million views), State Farm embraced them. In fact, they did more than that, they made an effort to become part of the ‘authentic nature of pop culture’ through a program. El said she knew they had made it when t-shirts saying “Can I get a hot tub?’ started to appear.

Extending the Magic

State Farm went further into pop culture by being, as El puts it ‘all over social media’. First, State Farm partnered with indie band “Weezer” who covered the jingle and participated in a promotion called ‘Wishes with Weezer’. Fans were urged to submit videos posing questions they would like answered as the band toured. Shockingly, this is a seriously good song and has won wide praise from music fans.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YaaHevyxvvA

In another gutsy move, they featured LeBron James in a commercial and broke the spot on James social media network to reach his 6 million Facebook fans. There was also a special Internet only ‘dance’ video which has already received over 350,000 hits on Youtube.

Becoming A Guest at the Party

Pamela El has a way of making the difficult path seem obvious, as when she explains why State Farm decided to take their campaign a step further and ‘become a guest at other people’s parties’. They chose a most unusual party to begin with. Last year I wrote a blog post, titled “Phil DeFranco: Youtube Celebrity”. A year ago, 24-year old DeFranco was video blogging 4 times a week to his nearly one million fans on his channel. Today he has 1.5 fans and is the 11th most subscribed channel on Youtube. DeFranco’s irreverence would not make him the first choice of many ‘classic’ brands. For a sample, watch yesterday’s discussion of why everyone should wear yoga pants, Brittany Spears latest pregnancy and Bristol Palin.

Takeaways

Like any good speaker (and El was more than good), she provided some pithy takeaways.

1. Multi-cultural is mainstream.  Young people are more alike than they are different. You don’t need multicultural marketing to reach young adults, they don’t care about the differences.

2. Make your business social, not your brand.  You have to reach out in a unique way, and then follow through with a plan to sustain engagement.

3. Give young adults credit for being smart, innovative and wise.

4. Get an agency partner that understands the target.

5. Challenge yourself by asking, what can you do that’s really authentic with your brand?

To this list I would add another – don’t be afraid to turn off your core customers by embracing Millennials. As we have seen, young adults are huge influencers, and what they like is more likely to be embraced by older consumers than vice versa.

“We have a lot more planned”

With key competitors in the room, El was unwilling to provide details on business results but it is clear that State Farm is pleased with the results so far and has no plans to retreat. The State Farm ‘Magic Jingle’ campaign is among the top five most recalled spots.   Most important, El allowed that a ‘huge percentage of our new business is from young adults’.  Bravo!

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  • http://travisrobertson.com Travis Robertson

    Carol -

    This is a spectacular post! Thank you so much for sharing it. You also hit on something that I think is critical to marketers who wish to reach Millennials: don’t ignore offline media like TV commercials.

    I love how State Farm blended the offline with the online and focused on the message first. They then used all available mediums to distribute that message.

    Thanks again!

  • http://twitter.com/samdavidson samdavidson

    Another point to note: State Farm funds a long of organizations doing work with young people. Of course, they want new drivers to be safe drivers, but a lot of youth- and teen-based nonprofit have benefited from their corporate philanthropy. Yet another way to stay consistent.

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