The Spot: ‘Mayhem’ Forever

Dean Winters is reborn as Leo Burnett's iconic Allstate campaign keeps making mischief

IDEA: Two and a half years after it was born, Allstate's "Mayhem" campaign is now going into labor. As mayhem personified, Dean Winters has played dozens of mischievous roles, representing unexpected dangers from which Allstate protects you. In this latest spot, he's a frantic woman about to give birth in a speeding car as her husband races to the hospital.

Creative directors Britt Nolan and Mikal Pittman were thrilled when copywriter Brooke Anderson and art director Greg Nobles brought them the concept—and almost shocked they'd never considered it. "We're always looking for 'Mayhem' to embody the most true vulnerabilities in the world," said Nolan. "With this idea, I said, 'I don't even care what the script is like. We're doing that.' "

COPYWRITING: Winters is in the car's backseat, legs in the air. "I'm having a contraction!" he screams—twice—at the husband, who is weaving through traffic. Then he says, calmly, to the camera: "We're in labor. The book says we should stay calm. But this is our first kid, and we've chosen to panic." "Gun it!" he shouts at the husband. To the camera, slyly: "For the baby." Husband barrels through an intersection, causing two other cars to collide. "Outta Mommy's way!" Winters shouts. Then, calm again: "So, get an Allstate agent and be better protected from mayhem like me." He then pops a water balloon—seems his water has broken.

The script ended up getting pared back as the balloon visual precluded more dialogue. The spots often have a core laugh line—here, it's "Outta Mommy's way!" "We find ourselves falling in love with a repeatable line, but we avoid stating that as a formula," said Nolan. "When we brief it that way, it's limiting. Sometimes a great spot can be more visual."

TALENT: Winters improvises during the shoots, but more with his physicality than his dialogue. "He's not ad-libbing in the moment, but he's definitely open to new lines being thrown at him. Or he might have an idea for something that's better than what we've written," Nolan said. A great physical comedian, Winters often throws in unexpected movements that give a spot the extra kick it needs.

He also, crucially, plays funny and menacing equally well. "We wanted someone who wasn't going to read comedy at first glance, so people could get to know the campaign and maybe like it more the more they saw it, instead of being broad comedy that wears out and gets old," said Nolan. He's played a lot of bad-boy characters, like on Oz and Rescue Me. And he was so funny on 30 Rock. Nobody had used him in a role that combined the dry humor with the bad-boy thing. We brought him in for a read, and he was really dead on. And he's come to really take ownership of the character. At this point he's really in tune and cares a lot about what the character would and wouldn't do, how he would and wouldn't behave. "

Wardrobe and makeup round him out. He has worn the same black suit in every spot, which is then accessorized. (In this one, he simply has a pillow with him.) He also always has little cuts and bruises—applied each time by the same makeup person. "We give him different types of contusions and abrasions, without going too far," said Pittman. "But you should write that we actually beat him up," said Nolan. "We kick his ass the night before."

ART DIRECTION/FILMING: Mike Maguire, new to the campaign, filmed "Labor" in a single day in Vancouver. (The agency has also shot in New York, New Jersey, Los Angeles and Calgary, and has used two other directors, Phil Morrison and Romain Gavras. The campaign is up to about 45 spots in total now.) Visually, the goal is realism. "If we overdramatized the danger, it would feel like we're trying to scare people," said Pittman. "'Mayhem' is just trying to remind you of the realities."

This extends to the color grade and effects. Everything should be as neutral and practical as possible to embody the honesty and trust that's so key in insurance ads.

SOUND: The same brief music track closes out all the spots. More important is sound design, which often paces them. In that regard, the new spot is almost like labor itself, said Pittman. "It goes through some contractions, which then subside," he said. "There's moments of calm and moments of intensity. The sound design helps that."

MEDIA: "Labor" broke on the Sugar Bowl and is running on national broadcast and cable, and online.



Client: Allstate

Campaign: "Mayhem"

Spot: "Labor"

Agency: Leo Burnett, Chicago

CCO: Susan Credle

ECD: Charley Wickman

CDs: Britt Nolan, Mikal Pittman

CW: Brooke Anderson

AD: Greg Nobles

Agency Producer: Bryan Litman

Production Company: The Directors Bureau

Director: Mike Maguire

Editing Company: The Whitehouse

Editor: Matthew Wood

Sound Studio: Another Country

Sound Designer: John Binder

Visual Effects: Mass Market

Colorist: Billy Gabor/Company 3

Account: Jason Georgen

The Burnett creatives pointed to two other Mayhem spots that are among their favorites: "Blind Spot" and "GPS." Those are two that we hold up as the standard of truth for this campaign—something anybody can relate to," said Nolan. Those spots are posted here: