Let's try a little mentalism.
You are shopping for car insurance. You decide to check a number of insurance companies to compare quotes. I want you to think about who you would call, consult online, or otherwise fill out the required information for in order to get a quote.
Fix those brands in your mind. Got them?
<goes into trance>
The number of brands you were thinking of (plus or minus one, since I'm a statistician) was: 3.
One of those brands was Geico, and one was Progressive.
How did I do?
Now, as an amateur mentalist I can assure you that while with any one individual I might have been wrong, I was probably right about the majority of you who read this post (so please, belay those "that's not what I was thinking!" comments). But here is where things get a little fuzzy. I can be reasonably sure that had I asked this in January, the majority of you would not have named Esurance. Today, however, I am not so sure--and I bet, for many of you, Esurance was indeed in your consideration set, thanks to their Super Bowl campaign.
When Esurance decided to give away 1.5 million dollars on Twitter, they absolutely made a mark--and earned a great deal of praise from folks like AdWeek. But there has been some skepticism, as well, surrounding the efficacy of this "stunt." The very sharp Augie Ray, in a lengthy and researched critique of the promotion, referred to the praise surrounding it directly in the title of his post, "The Mind-Boggling Lunacy of People Impressed with Esurance's Super Bowl Campaign."
Do read Augie's piece--it's extremely thoughtful. Here's where I agree with him: in many cases, "awareness" is a shaky goal. Look at "video #2" from any recent viral sensation--awareness doesn't always translate into action, and as Augie writes, "fans and followers are not prospects, nor are they a reliable leading business indicator." Besides, as he notes, Esurance already had high awareness--this article, cited in his post, shows that Esurance was the 6th most widely-recalled auto insurer.
So why spend so much money on an "awareness" campaign, if awareness isn't the problem?
Well, I would point out two things: first of all, 6th is not 3rd. See my mentalism experiment above. An awareness number means very little unless you know the consideration set of the consumer--the size of their mental decision-making shelf, as it were. Having the 6th most-recognized brand will get you a latte if the average insurance customer only goes three (or even five) brands deep in their deliberations.
More importantly, however, being known is not the same thing as being known for something. What is Geico known for? Geckos and camels. What is Progressive known for? Flo (and do a little digging there--some people love Flo, but others--not so much). Before the Super Bowl, what was Esurance known for? A cartoon, and then John Krasinski. Now? Well, I would argue that they have taken a stand, and it's not just about a sweepstakes. Publisher's Clearing House gives away money, but are they known for anything else? The sweepstakes business is their business.
What Esurance did was to turn our attention to their brand, which is different from "making us aware" of their brand. They did so by standing for something--finding ways to save money that the "other brands" don't, and passing the savings on to consumers. Their giveaway sent a tacit message that the other brands spent your savings on their Super Bowl ads. Augie notes that Esurance's VP of Marketing claimed the campaign was about raising their awareness, but I am willing to at least entertain the notion that the might have been being a little coy about their strategy in publication.
This, friends, is the difference between advertising and marketing. I've seen a lot of critiques about this year's crop of Super Bowl ads for not having enough calls to action, or some kind of direct response/direct marketing component. But that's marketing, not advertising. Advertising comes from the Latin ad vertare, which for the handful of us that no longer speak Latin, means "to turn toward." Esurance turned our attention toward their brand, and planted an idea, and that idea is the seed from which being known for something might grow.
Here, then, lies the true "call to action" of the Esurance campaign. There is a moderate risk of purchase with an insurance policy, and it's a very price-sensitive category with sometimes little price differentiation. That's why we have so many ducks and camels. The call to action of the Esurance Super Bowl giveaway was not to "be aware of us." It was to understand them. Between Awareness and Action lies a potentially wide chasm--and bridging that chasm requires prospects to understand what your brand means. And in order to understand, attention must be directed. I think Esurance directed attention, and stood for something, very well indeed. That's what great advertising does.
Finally, let me offer this. Yes, Esurance was already the 6th most-recognized insurance brand prior to the Super Bowl. But let me show you exactly what 6th looks like. I fired up a monitoring platform (in this example, Radian6) and took a look at the conversations happening around Esurance, Geico, Progressive and other leading insurance brands in the two weeks prior to the Super Bowl. Here's what I found: