Allstate’s Holiday ‘Mayhem’ in High Gear

Let’s see: if a tree falls on the highway, and no one hears it, can it still be “Mayhem”? Yup, especially if it’s Dean Winters playing the perfect Douglas fir, all trussed up in netting, a sight that’s positively terrifying at first and then turns slightly Beetlejuice-ish in this latest holiday spot.

Now consisting of more than a dozen commercials, the “Mayhem” campaign for Allstate from Leo Burnett may be the most consistently inventive work on the air these days. The Mayhem metaphor is a monster concept, and it keeps on going.

Like a twist on a ditsy acting exercise, Winters has played a deer, a key and even a foaming espresso. The ingenious setups and clever writing allow the former Oz actor — always in a sharp black suit and crisp white shirt with black tie — to show his true acting chops. The details are great too — I loved the butterfly bandage on Mayhem’s face in this holiday spot. Festive.

Along the way, a blogger objected to Mayhem being embodied as a “hot babe out jogging” (complete with matching pink headband and hand weights.) She rightly made the point that it wasn’t the hot babe’s fault that the guy checking her out crashed. But this latest holiday spot in particular shows that Mayhem is not a literal anything — and is an equal opportunity troublemaker. Mayhem is the chaos that ensues from unexpected problems and accidents.

In this latest spot, after being carefully chosen by the perfect Tree Family Singers, Winters is trussed and placed atop a minivan. He loosens his twine and falls off while the family in the vehicle is in mid-carol, oblivious to any trouble. And then he becomes the problem of the innocent driver who, out of nowhere, has to swerve on the ice, and wreck his car, to avoid the big, dark bundle suddenly lodged there.

The tone — funny, dark, scary, knowing — is hard to achieve and even harder to sustain. But it does jar us into recognition, and hits home: you might want to pay more for your insurance, ho ho ho.