It'll Be Hammer Time In '05 For Nationwide Insurance

Hoping to break out of a conservative crouch that executives believe has limited its name recognition, Nationwide Insurance will feature former hip-hop star M.C. Hammer next year in new spots within TM Advertising’s “Life comes at you fast” campaign.

The work, slated to break in January, will be the first to use a celebrity to represent 78-year-old Nationwide, the nation’s No. 7 insurance com- pany, said Malcolm Mace, an evp and group account director at Interpublic Group’s TM in Irving, Texas.

Hammer, who went from superstardom to bankruptcy and obscu- rity in remarkably short order, personifies the “Life comes at you fast” theme, Mace said. Though the humorous spots have not yet been fully edited, they are expected to show Hammer’s life as a star and his more down-to-earth existence today as a minister. The work was shot in Los Angeles.

Nationwide in 2005 plans to double an ad budget that significantly increased this year (to about $50 million) under Steven Schreibman, vp of advertising and brand management at the Columbus, Ohio-based insurer, according to Schreibman. Nationwide spent about $25 million on ads in 2003, according to Nielsen Monitor-Plus—far less than competitors such as Progressive (topping the category with $210 million in 2003), Geico ($200 million), Allstate ($180 million), State Farm ($150 million) and Aflac ($60 million).

“One of the things we’re doing is giving Nationwide a voice that is at leadership spend levels,” said Schreibman, 42, who joined the company 10 months ago from Victoria’s Secret, where he had been marketing director. “I was shocked at the level of spending compared to our competitors, such as Allstate, State Farm and Geico.”

Schreibman said he considered putting the account into review after seven years at TM, but given a chance to save the account with a new creative approach, the shop came through.

Until this past spring, Nationwide had not had a brand-image campaign since the 1970s and had doled out its ad bucks so conservatively that few people could even recall the long-running jingle, “Nationwide Is on Your Side,” Schreibman said.

Schreibman brought to his Nationwide post retail sensibilities derived from his former job at Victoria’s Secret. His makeover of the insurer—whose U.S. sales in 2003 were $3.9 billion, well behind category leader AIG Group’s $81 billion, according to Nielsen—has included initiatives such as bathing the headquarters in blue light to reviving the company jingle as a ring tone on cellular phones.

TM’s most recent Nationwide campaign broke in April. One spot shows an attractive young woman sunbathing on one side of a swimming pool as her young, svelte husband or boyfriend dives into the pool at the other end. When he emerges from the water, he’s a pudgy older man with thinning hair. The spot concludes with the “Life comes at you fast” line.

This year, Nationwide targeted 15 markets that the company has designated as good, average or poor so that the results could be measured for impact, Schreibman said. In 2005, the spots will air in an additional 20 markets that are seen as good for Nationwide, he noted.