Marketing Campaign Case Studies

Thursday, June 5, 2008


Although Conseco, Inc., an insurance and financial services company, had become large and successful through acquisitions, it had little name recognition even among agents working for its various units. In order to establish the Conseco name as a brand, the company hired the advertising agency Fallon McElligott, Inc. to develop a print campaign to run in trade publications, followed by a $15 million television campaign, ‘‘Protect/Create Wealth,’’ targeted toward consumers with household incomes between $25,000 and $75,000 per year. The consumer campaign, Conseco’s first-ever on television, began running in February 1998 on ESPN and during the CBS broadcast of the NCAA basketball tournament, after which it moved to cable television. In a departure from the warm, sentimental advertising of insurance companies in the past, the campaign used edgy humor to make the point that life did not always go as expected and that a person needed to be financially prepared for bad or good times, either by having insurance or a financial plan. The company followed up with a $5 million print campaign in April 1998. The ‘‘Protect/Create Wealth’’ campaign ended in December 1998.

Conseco was founded in 1979 as Security National of Indiana Corp. by Stephen C. Hilbert, a former encyclopedia salesman from Terre Haute. In 1982 the company made the first of many acquisitions that would be the key to its growth, and in 1983 the company changed its name to Conseco, Inc. According to the company’s annual report filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission on March 31, 1999, from 1982 through 1998 Conseco acquired 19 insurance groups. By January 1998 the company was a $36 billion entity that sold life and health insurance and annuities under 25 names, including Colonial Penn Life and Casualty, American Travellers Life, Bankers Life & Casualty, and Capitol American.
Despite the fact that Conseco had grown into one of the country’s largest life and health insurance companies, few knew the company name. According to company spokesperson Jim Rosensteele, ‘‘Our research showed that even agents currently doing business with a Conseco company have very low awareness of the Conseco name. For many years, we’ve been thought of as a collection of companies.’’ The company thus decided to develop the Conseco name as a brand. At the same time Conseco decided to diversify beyond insurance into the realm of financial services, and in 1997 the company began to market its own over-the-counter mutual funds. The following year, Conseco spent $6.5 billion to acquire Green Tree Financial Corp., which added home loans, credit cards, and home equity loans to its offerings.
Another reason to seek name recognition was Conseco’s need to begin growing from within by increasing the sales of the companies it had purchased. One market observer claimed that 1998 would be a ‘‘make-orbreak year’’ for Conseco, noting, ‘‘So far, they’ve built [success] on the bodies of a number of companies without a lot of brand recognition. They’re probably not going to have any significant acquisitions this year, so they’ve got to digest the acquisitions they’ve already made and show some internal growth.’’
Conseco was aware of the need to increase sales and in 1996 began to work on a new marketing plan. By January 1998 the company had a new logo, which featured a series of steps rising from the Conseco name, illustrating the company’s focus on performance. Conseco hired advertising agency Fallon McElligott to create a print campaign targeted toward the nation’s 190,000 independent insurance agents. The campaign emphasized Conseco’s financial success. One advertisement read, ‘‘Q: What do you call an insurance company that has an unyielding grasp on the bottom line? A: Your friend.’’ It went on to say, ‘‘We are unapologetically profitable . . .PERFORMANCE IS WHAT MATTERS.’’ Conseco set aside $10 million for the agent campaign, which ran in the Wall Street Journal, Sports Illustrated, Newsweek, and Forbes, as well as in trade publications. The company then spent $15 million for a consumer campaign, its first-ever on television.

Conseco’s consumer-oriented campaign sought to establish the company’s name as a brand for a diversity of services, including insurance and investments. In February 1999 American Banker described Conseco’s target segment as American households that earned $30,000 to $70,000 per year, rather than the very rich, saying that it was a ‘‘long-neglected segment of U.S. consumers.’’ Company founder Hilbert said that his goal was to make Conseco the ‘‘Wal-Mart of financial services.’’
The first spot ran on February 26, 1998, on ESPN and then ran on CBS during the NCAA basketball tournament in March 1998. ‘‘If you look at the crowd that watches college basketball, they are college-educated people. It’s an excellent target audience to reach,’’ said Sandy Deem, a spokesperson with First Union, a company that ran advertising during the 1999 tournament. College basketball viewers were reported to have higher salaries and more education than other sports fans. Conseco spokesperson Rosensteele said, ‘‘There’s nothing like the NCAA tournament to really build exposure with the audience we’re targeting. We really want to build brand awareness with both agents and consumers.’’ Rosensteele also acknowledged that Conseco had a special connection with college basketball, which ‘‘is very big here in Indiana.’’

Minneapolis advertising agency Fallon McElligott opened a branch in New York in April 1995, and by September 1997 it had $120 million in billings. One major reason for its success, according to an article in Shoot, was the agency’s chairman, Andy Berlin, who had helped launch the San Francisco-based Goodby, Berlin & Silverstein in 1983.
In addition to Conseco, Fallon McElligott boasted a client list at the time that included Coca-Cola, Tidy Cat, the NBA, Conde Nast publications, the Washington Post, Metropolitan Health Care, the National Symphony Orchestra, the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Bankers Trust Worldwide, and Bancomer, the largest bank in Mexico.
Berlin said that one thing setting the agency apart from others was that the creative people worked ‘‘unusually closely’’ with account planners while campaigns were being developed. According to Berlin, the agency was also structured with as few layers as possible and featured a very young and prolific group of creative talent.
Berlin believed that finding an ‘‘original voice’’ was the most important thing he contributed to Goodby, and he continued to hold that philosophy at Fallon McElligott. ‘‘The world doesn’t need another Young & Rubicam or another Ogilvy & Mather,’’ he said. ‘‘It needs fresh voices.’’

According to an article in National Underwriter Life & Health on January 12, 1998, the insurance and financial services industries had just gone through a ‘‘watershed year—the year in which it became apparent that the life insurance industry was no longer able to stand apart from the fundamental restructuring occurring within the financial services industry.’’ One major development was the ‘‘unprecedented level of merger and acquisition activity in the financial services industry.’’ Significant mergers and acquisitions took place in the life and property/ casualty markets, as well as in the managed care and brokerage segments. In the life insurance market companies were driven to consolidate by the desire to expand their scale, volume, products, distribution, and expertise. In addition to Conseco, other companies using acquisitions to stay competitive included Aegon N.V., American General Corp., ING Groep N.V., Jefferson-Pilot Corp., and Lincoln National Corp.
‘‘From a fragmented industry composed of thousands of competitors we are being driven toward a concentrated financial services market with a few national-level players in each segment,’’ National Underwriter Life & Health reported. ‘‘Insurance companies that once specialized in a single line or market now face hulking competitors like Travelers-Salomon Brothers, G.E. Capital, Zurich-Kemper, and Morgan Stanley-Dean Witter, along with the likes of American General, Aegon USA, and ING.’’ Only three months later, in April 1998, Citicorp and Travelers Group Inc. announced that they were merging to form Citigroup Inc., ‘‘the world’s first supermarket for banking, insurance and financial services,’’ according to Reuters news service. The merger created a megacompany with $698 billion in assets.

Conseco’s $15 million television campaign aimed at consumers was part of a long-term strategy to establish the company as a brand name in order to engender greater customer loyalty and to enhance sales. This would allow the company to grow without relying as heavily on acquisitions as it had in the past. As reported in February 1998 in Adweek, the television campaign was launched with five commercials—three 30-second spots and two 15-second spots—that used storytelling to make the point that Conseco could provide a variety of financial services.
The 30-second spots explored negative themes, but with an upbeat twist at the end. Fallon McElligott used edgy humor in the commercials in order to set Conseco apart from other companies, which had traditionally used sentimentality or warmer humor. In one 30-second spot, ‘‘Grim Reaper,’’ a couple was relaxing at home when, unbeknownst to them, the Grim Reaper came to their front door. Before he could knock, a female Reaper appeared and lured him away by lifting her skirt to flash a bit of leg bone. The two ran off together, and the couple remained blissfully unaware of the close call. The voice-over said, ‘‘You never know when your number is going to be up. That’s why you need protection against the unexpected.’’ In another 30-second spot, ‘‘Italian Woman,’’ a woman was told that her man had been seen with another woman in a jewelry store. As she stomped to the store with a rolling pin in hand and a crowd in tow, the voice-over said, ‘‘Sometimes you need health insurance. Sometimes you need life insurance.’’ When she discovered that the ‘‘other woman’’ was actually a store clerk and that the man was buying her a ring, she dropped the rolling pin and the voice-over said, ‘‘And sometimes you need investments for the future.’’ The third 30-second spot, ‘‘Boxer,’’ explored similar bad news/good news themes, showing a young boxer being beaten up in the ring but telling the viewer that he had won a $2 million purse in the process. One of the 15-second spots simply showed a squirrel jumping from branch to branch in a tree, only to fall out of sight on his final leap. The narrator said, ‘‘You know the saying, ‘Look before you leap?’ Well, it’s especially true when you make financial decisions. So, maybe you should be talking to Conseco.’’ The tag line for the campaign was ‘‘Create wealth. Protect wealth. For life.’’
The campaign was designed to encourage consumers to use Conseco for a variety of financial services and to emphasize that things did not always go according to plan. ‘‘Life can go either way, and we want to show that Conseco is there,’’ said account supervisor Mary Ann Harris. The company was also interested in standing out from the crowd, particularly since it was a relatively late arrival in consumer marketing. The company and the advertising agency believed that the edgy approach was a welcome change from the messages of the past, that people were tired of ‘‘warm and fuzzy advertising’’ and were ‘‘ready to hear a different message.’’ Bill Schwab, a cocreator of the campaign with Fallon McElligott, remembered one member of a focus group member who said, ‘‘If I see one more insurance-company ad where some child is tugging at her mother’s skirt, I’ll throw up.’’
It was reported that Conseco planned to run 51 commercials on CBS during the NCAA tournament alone. In addition, the advertising appeared on such cable networks as ESPN, CNN, A&E, and the History Channel. Within weeks after the television advertising began, the Indianapolis Star reported that the Conseco name was gradually being used by the company’s subsidiaries and added to products, part of the move to publicize Conseco as a brand name. In April a $5 million print campaign followed in financial and news.

At one time the business and sports worlds had little to do with each other, at least from a marketing standpoint. During the 1990s, however, both mutual funds and sports became increasingly popular among men and women of all ages with money to invest. A marketing match was thus created.
According to a July 18, 1999, article in the Arizona Republic, in 1998 financial firms spent an estimated $850 million on global sports advertising. Among other things mutual fund companies became high-profile sponsors of professional sports teams and athletic events. Stadiums and sports arenas were being named after financial companies, despite occasional fan protests. Conseco Field House, home of the Indianapolis Pacers, was just one example, along with Safeco Field in Seattle and the Philadelphia 76ers’ new venue, First Union Center.
‘‘Financial-services firms have been increasingly turning to professional sports to raise brand-name recognition,’’ according to Cerulli Associates, a Boston consulting firm. ‘‘Sports sponsorships offer a unique benefit over traditional advertising: consumers often form an emotional attachment to sports teams.’’

According to Victor Kimble, the Conseco account supervisor at Fallon McElligott, the campaign succeeded in getting the Conseco message out in a nontraditional way. Kimble believed that it put Conseco ‘‘on the awareness map’’ and ‘‘gave them the buzz they needed’’ to get started. Conseco used Fallon McElligott for its next wave of national advertising, created for television and print and launched almost exactly one year after the 1998 campaign. Kimble said that the strategy was refined for the 1999 campaign, which featured commercials in which a bride and groom were forced to cater their own wedding and a man in a wet suit went snorkeling for coins in a fountain to fund his retirement. The latter spot won a Silver Lion at the Cannes Film Festival in the product category of ‘‘investment, insurance and property development.’’
Observers judged Conseco’s marketing efforts to the lower-income segment to be well-timed. According to James Bell, a senior partner with New York corporate brand specialist Lippencott & Margulies, there has been ‘‘a hiatus’’ in effective advertising to this market, with most marketing aimed toward ‘‘slicked-back guys with wire-rimmed glasses getting on airplanes in first class.’’ Stewart Stockdale, Conseco’s executive vice president of marketing and strategic planning, said in July 1999 that he was ‘‘very pleased’’ with the recognition Conseco advertising was getting. ‘‘We are even more pleased that our campaign to build a nationwide consumer brand focusing on financial services for middle America—households with $25,000 to $75,000 in annual income—is working. Awareness of Conseco has doubled in the past year. Even more importantly, we’ve seen healthy increases in overall preference for our brand, in consumer receptivity to purchase our products, and in the number of positive traits consumers associate with our brand. Brand-building is a long-term effort, but we’re off to a great start.’’

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