Whether the spots score or not, insurance marketers continue to believe advertising in sports events is a ripe playing field. Notably in college football games.
Take an October broadcast of Tennessee-Alabama on CBS. Eight different insurers ran a combined 20 spots in the game, led by Geico and TIAA-CREF with four each.
But it wasn't just during the breaks that the marketers sought exposure. TIAA-CREF sponsored the pre-game show with its logo visible on the set. Aflac offered an on-screen trivia question-and-answer.
New York Life had its logo virtually overlaid on the field during the action. Geico sponsored both the halftime show and a game recap. And John Hancock was behind in-game updates from other action around the country.
The breakdown came from top TNS Media Intelligence researcher Jon Swallen in a presentation on insurance-category ad spending earlier this month.
Swallen, however, raised the issue whether the heavy load of exposure for competitive insurers in a single broadcast can break through the proverbial clutter.
"Do any of them stand out with viewers or do they just cancel [each other] out? Or to use a football metaphor, are they playing offense or are they just playing defense?" he said on the Webinar.
To emphasize insurance marketers' attraction to college football, Swallen said that on average, 9% of all sports advertising on TV is spent in college football. But the insurance category spends about 16%.
College football, however, is not the only game in town for the Geicos and State Farms. Overall, sports accounts for 15% of all TV ad spending; insurers spend about 24% of their dollars there. p> "The appeal of sports programming to insurance advertisers lies in the programming [and] the quality of audience it attracts," Swallen said. "And, most importantly I think, the opportunities for promotional and sponsorship tie-ins."
He cited Nationwide as an advertising in auto-racing events, dovetailing with its title sponsorship of a NASCAR series. Both State Farm and The Hartford are NCAA "corporate partners" and involved in March Madness advertising and college hoops advertisers.
Overall, the massive insurance category was down 8% in all ad spending from January-September in 2009. That yields a total 2009 spending estimate of $3.7 billion.
But that decline is at a slower pace than for the overall ad market, down 15% for the January-September period.
In the hyper-competitive auto category -- about half of the full insurance segment -- Swallen said consumers tend to view it as a "price-driven commodity." Helping sustain that is the Internet, which allows easy price comparisons.
"A primary strategic goal for advertising is to build brand-name awareness, so when the policy comes up for renewal, their company will hopefully be on the consumer's short list," Swallen said.
The auto category was down about 9% in the January-September period this year, and projected to come in at $1.7 billion for the full year. Swallen did indicate he expects leading auto brands to continue to spend liberally on national TV going forward.
"The top brands still rely on national TV as the foundation of their media campaigns for building and maintaining awareness against their broadly defined target audiences," he said.
Geico, the largest advertiser in the insurance segment with $620 million spent for all ads in 2008, apportioned about 60% of its budget on national TV.
Allstate (87%), State Farm (73%) and Progressive (69%) had higher percentages in the medium.
Swallen also noted that auto insurers have altered the tenor and messages of some creative this year. "The content of these TV ads has shifted over the past year with a much more direct, overt emphasis on price and savings; the recession has made consumers more value conscious."