When Did Insurance Become the Wacky Uncle of the Financial Industry?

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Car crashes. Floods. Fires. A floating moose.

Whoever would have thought personal disasters would become a laughing matter for the insurance companies that cover them?

Over the last several years, marketing for insurance companies has gone from dead serious to not serious at all.

Why has this shift taken place? Most people don’t relate to fear in marketing. They actually avoid it. No one wants to think about the bad things that can happen to them and this often prevents them from taking precautions (for example, purchasing insurance).

However, most of us love humor. It draws us in and helps us relate to calamitous events. Insurance companies find that consumers are more likely to think about buying coverage by using irony or laughter rather than fear or anxiety.

Some companies do so-called laughter-through-tears marketing better than others. Here are some of the better examples.

Allstate’s Mayhem

This campaign has been popular for several years. In it, a somewhat appealing — yet appalling — character played by Dean Winters is the catalyst for some very unfortunate events including car crashes, personal injuries and property damage.

The ads are brilliant because they skirt the line between fear-mongering and humor in very subtle ways. They humanize the forces that can turn an everyday experience — texting while driving, climbing a ladder or attending a sporting event — into a calamity. The storytelling makes the kinds of accidents people don’t want to think about impossible to look away from.

Marketers can learn a lot from Mayhem and the way its executions come very close to being distasteful, but avoid crossing the line. In an industry known for its fear of being innovative or edgy, Mayhem shows how taking a calculated risk can pay off.

The Farmers Hall of Claims

This campaign gets people to take action by making the impossible seem possible. It tells the stories behind some extremely unlikely insurance claims, including:

  • A moose ending up in a pool
  • A gerbil causing a car accident
  • A lightning bolt that literally fries a living room.

The Hall of Claims takes the opposite approach to the Mayhem campaigns. Mayhem makes the everyday extreme. Hall of Claims makes the extreme seem everyday. This is appropriate for the more homespun, folksy and helpful Farmers brand.


This insurance company has some hits and misses when it comes to using humor in its marketing.

Its ads featuring Flo, the perky insurance service person, are legendary. The fictional character personalizes the firm and helps bring its commitment to low prices and customer service to life. A testament to Flo’s success: She’s approaching five million followers on Facebook. That’s quite an achievement for a fake character representing an insurance company.

The company’s ads featuring an animated box come-to-life aren’t always as easy to connect with. They seem to be more of an awareness play rather than a representation of the brand and its values.

The Hartford

This older insurance firm has used somewhat edgy humor in its ads for small business insurance to change perceptions of the staid brand. Older ads feature Mayhem-like characters causing workplace accidents. More recent executions show simple on-the-job mistakes (a nail gun taking out a Faberge-style egg) that go horribly wrong.

The commercials end with an important message about how The Hartford’s reps are always there to help — an interesting and engaging juxtaposition between edgy humor and genuine helpfulness.

Are you looking for an interesting way to represent your financial or professional services brand? Contact Carpenter Group. We’re fun to talk with and can help you come up with ways to bring a little levity to even the most conservative brand.