May 30, 2007

Advertising Agent

This story breaks new territory for the Double O Section… advertising. Not a subject I generally cover, but when a spy features so prominently in a national campaign, it’s definitely of interest.

The San Francisco Business Times runs a front-page story this week on an, ahem, advertising agent. “Powered by a sexy cartoon spy and its online-only focus, auto insurance specialist Esurance Inc. is adding customers and premium revenue like crazy… Much of that growth has been spurred by pink-haired Erin Esurance, a super spy who stars in the company’s suddenly ubiquitous advertising campaign.”

I have to admit, those ads have grabbed my attention too. Female spies in catsuits tend to do that, even if they’re cartoons created to sell car insurance! And I guess I’m not the only one. The Business Times story continues: “The curvaceous cartoon character has grabbed the attention of the 20- and 30-something urban male consumers Esurance is targeting—so much so that Internet ad blogs are full of comments from lonely hearts with crushes on Erin.” Well, I’m not going to go so far as to profess a crush, but I guess I’m now among the bloggers giving Esurance free advertising by running this story. (Note: I don’t have Esurance and don’t endorse it in any way!)

The story claims that Erin’s creator, Kristin Brewe (Esruance’s Director of Brand and Public Relations) gets hundreds of emails asking for autographed 8x10s of Erin, leading the business trade to conclude that, “Getting its target market excited about insurance is a feat in itself.” (Of course, insurance and spying have long been linked...)

“What’s interesting about what they’ve done,” the story quotes Mya Frazier, who covers auto insurance for Advertising Age Magazine, “is they’ve created an image that’s so young in an industry that’s so old… They’ve created a fresh, hip image that’s so appealing.” To comment on a commentator, I find it interesting that Ms. Frazier sees the 40-year old Emma Peel image of a sultry, empowered female agent in a sexy catsuit as “young” and “fresh.” I think that point of view in the business marketplace bodes very well for the immediate future of spies in popular culture, and speaks to the enduring image of the superspy, male or female.

According to the article, the campaign is working. “Premium growth is keeping pace with interest in Erin’s latest televised escapades. [Esurance] expects volume this year to reach more than $900 million,” a fifty percent growth over 2006. So Erin Esurance isn’t going anywhere. Twenty-six segments featuring the character have aired so far, and there are more in the pipeline. “Indications are that Esurance will spend considerably more than $100 million on an expanded national marketing campaign.”

The Business Times also hints at other avenues of media saturation for the pink-haired spy. Tie-ins are planned with the USA TV show Characters Uncovered (no idea what that is) and SciFi Network’s Stan Lee-created Who Wants To Be A Superhero? Rival insurance company GEICO’s cavemen characters recently graduated from commercials to their own network sitcom; I’d say the possibility certainly exists for Erin as well. Cartoons, comics… there are a lot of possibilities. If any of that comes to pass, I’ll cover it here.

Esurance even has a webpage devoted to Erin fan art. Apparently Erin’s fans also create their own scenarios for her and post them on YouTube, adding to Esurance’s free exposure. All this has led to the company being the third most recognized name in car insurance, “after Progressive and GEICO but ahead of major players like State Farm, Allstate and Farmers.”

It’s great to see that spies remain popular enough in the public consciousness nearly half a century after James Bond set off the initial spy craze of the 1960s!

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