financial services

Farmers Insurance Joins Humor Bandwagon

Farmers Insurance is the latest to use humor as a weapon in a pop-culture war among insurance companies.

It's a big change from the antidiluvian (pre-GEICO) days when messaging around home, life and auto insurance pretty much limited marketing communications to either a "Mr. Rogers" type good-neighbor pitch, with insurance agents in hard hats lending a helping hand during floods and the like, or a "told you so" finger waver, where someone experiences a disaster and gets double-slapped by fate and a lousy plan.

Farmers' effort, which includes TV, involves a semi-fictive "University of Farmers" overseen by Prof. Nathaniel Burke, played by character actor J.K. Simmons. The national campaign, by RPA and Tool of North America, makes fun of educational films, beginning with TV ads that started late last month, touting Farmers insurance agents as the best trained in the business.

While the university is fictional, it is an elaboration upon a real training center for agents in Agoura Hills, Calif. The scenarios shown on the TV ads and online videos at, show the professor leading training sessions on home, auto and life insurance.



The site has interactive classrooms where site visitors can take quizzes, among other things. Stop-motion "educational" films show such examples as a woman whose car breaks down in the wrong part of town, recreated on the classroom stage. Site visitors can take a quiz about why people steal catalytic converters (for the platinum) and, if their answers are incorrect, a thug comes and removes the car's wheels and doors, leaving the chagrined woman sitting on a car chassis supported by cinder blocks.

Three TV spots feature the Prof. Nathaniel Burke character, wherein he teaches agents in a faux classroom. In one ad, a wave runner is caught on fire in a tree. Agents are quizzed and challenged by Burke.

In another of the spots, a house is full of water due to frozen pipes. Agents diagnose the situation and give suggestions. In the third, "Autoboatome" (a combination car, boat and house) agents are tested on why bundling policies is a good idea as a way for consumers to lower their monthly nut.

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