A new SafeAuto Insurance campaign features cars that, while decidedly ordinary looking, stir enough affection in their drivers that they name them. One commercial features a black 2006 Dodge Caravan minivan, Betty, which looks well maintained but not in showroom condition, with scuffs on its front bumper.
“For years you and this supercharged piece of eye candy have done much more than make car payments, buy gas and change the oil,” says a voice-over, as a mother drops her children off at soccer games and karate classes and transports items including a Christmas tree, a bunch of balloons and a pet rabbit. “You’ve lived, really lived, and you’re most certainly not done. SafeAuto gets it. The right car insurance for the right price.”
Another spot features a 2004 Chevy Impala named Lola driving along a country road as a cover of “Lola” by the Kinks plays.
The insurer also will ask policyholders what their cars are called as part of their enrollment, so customer representatives can subsequently refer to the cars by name. A promotional photograph from the company shows what is meant to be a SafeAuto call center, with a smiling woman wearing a headset and looking at a monitor. “Hello Ms. Jacobs,” says the accompanying text. “How’s Black Betty?”
For those whose cars are nameless, the company is introducing a nickname generator on its website and mobile app that will use information put in by motorists, including their hobbies and the car’s model, color and odometer reading, to determine a name.
The campaign, which is being introduced Monday, is by Greatest Common Factory, an independent advertising agency and production company in Austin, Tex. SafeAuto, which declined to reveal expenditures for the new campaign, spent $44.5 million on advertising in 2012, according to Kantar Media, a unit of WPP. Outspending the brand were Geico, with expenditures of $924.1 million, and Progressive, with $492.6 million.
Introduced in 1993, SafeAuto, which is based in Columbus, Ohio, provides auto insurance in 16 states. The company promotes the affordability of what it calls its minimum-coverage plans, the least required by each state, and tends to draw price-conscious motorists whose vehicles are less valuable. Most vehicles it insures are over a decade old and are domestic models, along with affordable imports like Hondas, according to Charles Kordes, the customer demand and experience leader at SafeAuto.
The new campaign celebrates that drivers are just as attached to modest cars as they are to fancier ones, Mr. Kordes said.
“Our owners were able to attain this vehicle, and it could be the only asset they own, and to them that’s very important,” he said. “The new campaign is talking about that everyday romance that people have with their cars.”
Other spots do not mention nicknames but still highlight how owners of everyday cars are no less fond of them than big spenders are of theirs. One new commercial that spoofs movie trailers, for example, opens with several speeding cars becoming airborne and trailing flames as they crest hills and skidding as they speed into turns.
“In a world where cars are really important, one car is most important: yours,” intones a voice-over, as the footage switches to cars that aren’t souped-up being driven prudently. “This Friday, get busy driving, thanks to SafeAuto.”
Much of the footage of the older cars is shot in the flattering style of new-car ads, with moving vehicles shown at what car marketers call a three-quarter view, meaning the car is shot from slightly below and halfway between a side view and front view, revealing its grille, both front wheels and one side.
“Part of it is to elevate those vehicles that people have a relationship with to the clichéd imagery that surrounds 2014 models this time of year,” said John Trahar, a co-founder and managing partner at Greatest Common Factory. “It’s a mindful execution to say that we know that this car right here is important even though it’s 13 years old.”
Nationwide Insurance has recently run an ad that plays on how important people’s cars are to them, with an owner who pictures his car as an oversize baby, including when he’s washing it in his driveway or when, in a supermarket parking lot, he throws himself in the path of a runaway shopping cart rolling toward his bundle of joy.
Nationwide also sponsored a contest in October where consumers shared their vehicle nicknames with snapshots for a chance to win $7,500 for gas and lodging for a road trip. Among motorists’ entrants were a bright green Camaro called Glostick, a yellow and black Mustang called Buzz and a Hyundai in frequent need of repairs named Kim Jung Ill. At least two entrants were named the Mistress, and their male owners explained they were named by their wives, who complained the men spent more time and money on the cars than on them.
A Nationwide survey found 25 percent of motorists name their cars, and that the practice is most prevalent among drivers 18 to 34, with 36 percent doing so.
At SafeAuto, meanwhile, Mr. Kordes said that highlighting motorists’ bond with their cars contrasts their approach with that of insurers like Geico and Progressive, which urge switching to their brands to save money.
“With the discount-and-savings game, everyone is saying that they can save you $300 to $500 a year,” Mr. Kordes said. “But if you think about it, that would mean if I switched insurers twice, I’d pay zero.”