The focal point of its multi-media approach is a pair of television commercials that tap into the deepest, darkest thoughts of Canadians. In one spot, a boatload of insurance employees is eagerly awaiting a scuba diving outing. But when the instructor finds out what they do for a living, his demeanor takes a 180-degree turn. He quickly tells them today is their lucky day because they’ll get to swim with a nearby group of “fun-loving dolphins.” As they enter the water and prepare to move toward the circling dorsal fins, the instructor throws a few buckets of bloody fish guts into the water and tells his charges to “splash around a lot” because the “dolphins” like that.
In the second commercial, a safari leader has a similar mood swing when he learns his Jeep is full of insurance employees. He stops abruptly and tells them this is their chance to play with the “cats.” The naïve employees are last seen approaching a group of tigers when the guide roars off alone.
Paul Fletcher, Toronto-based senior vice-president of marketing at AVIVA, is quick to point out that no insurance workers were killed in the making of these commercials. He says he knew it would take something memorable to make a splash in the market so the company opted for the bizarro world approach and did the exact opposite of what everybody would expect.
“We wanted to come up with absurd scenarios. They’re caricatures. The characters are almost cartoons. It helps us get our story across and makes it repeatable and watchable again and again,” Fletcher says.
After conducting some market research, he says AVIVA became well aware that consumers have a number of issues with the insurance industry, and perceive it as a complicated but necessary evil.
These conclusions are leveraged in a quartet of radio commercials. In one, the announcer says AVIVA understands dealing with insurance companies can be really irritating to some people. The announcer then asks which of the following sounds reminds listeners of the insurance industry: a) a yapping dog b) a car that won’t start c) a teenage girl talking on the phone who uses “like” every third word.
Because AVIVA was a “blank sheet of paper” in the market, Fletcher says it has a great opportunity to take on the challenge of how Canadians view the insurance business, and in particular, property and casualty insurance—AVIVA’s specialty.
“That’s why we’re saying, ‘let’s change insurance.’ We’re saying we recognize you have some frustrations, we hear you, we understand what you’re saying and we’re committed to doing something about it,” he says.
Fletcher says by using clever and sophisticated humor, AVIVA is demonstrating to consumers that it has a personality, spirit and is willing to laugh at itself as an organization. But make no mistake, he adds, insurance is still a very serious business.
“We provide peace of mind to our customers. They know that should the worst happen, they’re protected. Our job is to fix it and put things right as quickly and professionally as possible and in a way that makes the customer delighted,” he says.
Unlike some insurance companies, AVIVA doesn’t do business directly with the end consumer. Instead, it is represented by 3,000 independent brokers across the country. It was these front-line people, in fact, who provided the impetus for the rebranding.
“They were telling us it’s much easier to sell a company that customers have heard of. Our aim is to help our brokers sell AVIVA to customers. Together, we’ll do even better,” Fletcher says.
Robert Warren, I.H. Asper executive director for entrepreneurship at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, Canada, calls AVIVA’s campaign “hilarious” yet effective.
“They went against the grain. They took Joe Public’s view of insurance as the centerpiece of the campaign. It will attract attention. As you get more exposure on that, you’ll see the rebranding taking place,” he says.
Warren says he doesn’t believe AVIVA will suffer any anti-humor backlash because the independent agents act as the go-between.
“Most people realize insurance companies are regulated and have to provide certain services. They know they won’t be dealing with a guy in a clown suit when they have a claim,” he says.
AVIVA is also putting its money where its mouth is, offering a money-back guarantee to clients who are unhappy with how it manages their claims.
“If we can’t fix it to your satisfaction, we’ll give you your insurance premium back. We believe in the service we provide,” he says.
To support its promise of wanting to change insurance, AVIVA has also set up a separate website, changeinsurance.ca, where it encourages consumers to share their thoughts on the industry.
“We are serious about this mission,” he says.
AVIVA’s rebranding will evolve further in the fall. Fletcher says the company will continue to leverage the frustrations consumers have expressed—in a humorous way, of course—and show how AVIVA is solving them.
“This is a long-term game. We are not naïve to that. We are very confident that we’re beginning to break through,” he says.