Farmers Insurance, “Dryer Fire”

RPA is returning with five new TV spots (and a whole slew of print ads) in its “University of Farmers” campaign for Farmers Insurance. The TV work revolves around the fictitious though quite amusing Professor Nathaniel Burke, played by actor J.K. Simmons, whom we’ve always enjoyed from his days on Law & Order through his larger-than-bit parts in Spider-Man and Juno. In the Farmers ads, Burke helps train Farmers agents in his magical classroom, through all sorts of outlandish demonstrations that teach them about the insurance business—and how to guard against accidents before they happen. (The new spots were shot by the husband-and-wife team of Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, who directed Little Miss Sunshine.) In this first new ad, Burke uses a flamethrower to set a giant lint ball on fire—to make the point that dryer fires are common enough that you should clean yours regularly. The campaign is based in truth—there is a real University of Farmers in Agoura Hills, Calif., where agents do get in-depth training. (Farmers was recently rated the top training organization in the world by Training magazine.) But none of that is mentioned in the spots, which makes them seem a bit more fanciful than persuasive. Also, the manly singing of “We are farmers” at the end has always mysteriously irked me for some reason. Having said that, the spots are memorable, Simmons is likable, and the campaign makes the brand feel approachable. An insurance company could do a whole lot worse. —Tim Nudd