The Drive’

By | January 24, 2005

Have you been watching the NFL playoffs? As a devotee of our country’s first national pastime–baseball–I confess to not having paid very close attention. To me, football is just the dead air on SportsCenter between basketball highlights and Hot Stove League updates. I ask, however, because if you have been watching the playoffs you may have caught Progressive Insurance Co.’s first attempt to market its new independent agents-only Drive Insurance.

I’m no marketing guru, but it’s a clever ad. It features the D-level celebrity and comedic actor Ryan Stiles, a lanky fellow known most widely for his roles on TV’s The Drew Carey Show and Whose Line Is It Anyway? The gist of the spot is that Ryan Stiles–barely recognized celebrity–is used to first-class treatment.

He points out that the electronic doors at the airport terminal automatically open for him, and he’s seen getting a second bag of peanuts while squeezed into a coach class seat. Which is why he’s able to get first-class individual attention from his Drive independent auto insurance agent. The agent, after dutifully recommending Drive Insurance to her client, points out that she provides the same service to all her clients. The ad concludes with the Drive Insurance from Progressive logo and a slogan I honestly don’t recall, though I’ve seen the spot several times now.

The ad does demonstrate that Progressive’s talk about building a recognizable independent-agent brand wasn’t completely empty. This is a well-done ad running during the playoffs when millions of people (albeit the type of people foolish enough to enjoy watching football) will see it. The ad does not direct viewers to a Web site or a telephone number, as do Progressive’s direct-response commercials.

This likely won’t be enough to assuage the concerns agents have voiced loudly and frequently about Progressive’s multiple-channel distribution model and below industry average commissions. Indeed, given the company’s past it seems that there is good reason for the 30,000-plus agents appointed with Progressive, the No. 1 writer of auto insurance through independent agencies, to proceed with caution. However, the nightmare scenario some envisioned that Drive Insurance was a plot to strand independent agents with a nonentity while Progressive direct-response soaked up the commissions seems far-fetched. We’ll see where we are a year from now.

If you’ve seen the ad or any others and would like to share your thoughts, please e-mail me. In the meantime, enjoy the game. And remember, pitchers and catchers report the third week of February.

Thanks for reading!

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Insurance Journal West January 24, 2005
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