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You might see it while waiting for the bus. You might catch it in between news snippets on a 24-hour cable network that promises you all the world's news in a half-hour. You could find it shuffled in with coupons for the fast-food burger place around the corner.
Companies are bombarding consumers with promotional messages in every conceivable medium, hoping to become household names.
When insurers advertise, many say keeping their name in the forefront of the target audience is the main goal. But unlike many consumer products, insurance advertising and promotion can be a hard sell -- struggling partly with the nature of the product and with the usual uncertainty about whether the ad campaign is reaching the desired audience.
"Insurance, by its very definition, is a low-interest category. . .it's not something people like to think about," said Gretchen Nuckles, director of advertising and communication for Wausau Insurance Cos. in Wausau, Wis.
To break through this perception and build brand awareness, creativity is key.
"What could be more boring than a reinsurance agent? What you want to do with an ad is to draw them in," said Cathy Bailey, director of communications for Capital Re Corp., a financial guarantee reinsurer based in New York. "We wanted to come up with something engaging, interactive and sophisticated because as a reinsurer, we are talking to the insurance market themselves," referring to Capital Re's new ad campaign.
Becoming just one more player in a cast of a thousand messages drove Capital Re to create an ad campaign that involves puzzles that those reading the ad could solve. Ms. Bailey said the campaign's benchmark is the number of calls Capital Re has received where several employees are stumped and want to know a puzzle's solution -- something Capital Re purposely doesn't include on the ad itself.
While this is the reinsurer's first serious ad campaign, Ms. Bailey said it has the potential for longevity because there are hundreds of these puzzles, and the text in the ads can be modified to fit a diverse range of products and media.
William Lyddan Jr., president and chief executive officer of New York-based Brouillard Communications, an advertising agency that specializes in corporate brand management, said consistency of the message conveyed and a solid campaign with staying power is critical to succeeding with promotional efforts.
"The great advertising campaigns, whether it's with the insurance business or other industries, are those that have longevity," he said.
To make Wausau's message stand out from others offering similar services, Ms. Nuckles said the campaign blends mystery and emotion associated with the insurer's location in Wausau, Wis. "We really took our Midwestern location and turned it into an advantage," she said.
Increasing volume and market share is part of the communications strategy of Warren, N.J.-based Chubb Corp., said Chief Marketing Officer Fabian Fondriest.
Because there is "twice as much supply as there is demand" for insurance services, Mr. Fondriest said Chubb is researching and recrafting its current creative approach and marketing strategy. Presently, the insurer splits its communication budget, which includes more than advertising, evenly between commercial and personal lines efforts but said more advertising is done for commercial lines products.
A successful advertising campaign is not solely about the creative approach. The types of media in which the ads appear work to reinforce an insurer's image and enables the company to cater the message to the audience's understanding of the product, sources said.
For example, Mr. Fondriest said when advertising in trade publications, Chubb could outline the specifics of its directors and officers liability coverage more thoroughly than it could if advertising in a regional daily newspaper or a general business publication, due to the sophistication of the trade press audience.
Brouillard's Mr. Lyddan said advertising in mass media vehicles can be off the mark because "it has waste. It'll be reaching a lot of people not in your target." However, the prestige offered by many of these vehicles could compensate for the excess.
Ms. Nuckles with Wausau sees worth in the spillover from the initial target audience. "You have a lot more influencers (in insurance-buying decisions)," she said, noting that risk managers, employee benefits managers and human resource professionals are becoming more involved in coverage purchasing decisions.
Executive Risk Inc., a Simsbury, Conn.-based insurer that specializes in professional and executive liability, breaks down its marketing strategies into two distinct categories, said Chief Underwriting Officer John F. Kearney.
The first group is the very sophisticated buyer, such as brokers and risk managers. The second is composed of agents or wholesalers or small business owners.
For the brokers and risk managers, Mr. Kearney said endorsements from industry groups, analytical pieces and newsletters are effective. "It's a totally different dynamic," he said. "There are far fewer options to reach out and communicate with that buyer."
With agents, wholesalers and business owners, communication that builds product awareness is preferred. "There is some element of education in that message, especially with the newer products," he said.