Instant Auto Eschews Traditional DM With New, Edgy Brand-Building Spots

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Instant Auto Insurance, a direct marketer of automobile insurance that targets young drivers, unveiled a new, edgy TV and radio campaign late last month that it said is generating a stronger initial response than previous campaigns that used a more traditional direct response approach.

The new spots, which began airing in five states recently, eschew the common direct response practice of repeating a phone number several times and instead employ more of a brand-building strategy.

"The big shift in what we're doing is creating advertising that will cut through the clutter," said Ken Smith, director of marketing at Instant Auto, Irving, TX. "We think it will be a lot more productive."

Although he declined to reveal specific results, he did say that "response has picked up significantly" since the campaign began airing. The spots mark the first work for Instant Auto from New & Improved Advertising, Scottsdale, AZ, which won the Instant Auto account late last year.

"We've moved away from the traditional auto-insurance advertising in terms of how we're positioning the company," said Liz Jones, vice president of client services at New & Improved. "With this group, because they are younger, we needed something to break through the clutter."

She said that unlike typical direct response approaches, the idea of the Instant Auto campaign is not necessarily to get the consumer to call as soon as they first see the commercial, but instead to get them to remember the brand when they do need insurance.

"This is not home shopping, where you see the commercial and you buy it right then," said Jones. "Insurance is more of a grudge purchase. Nobody wants to buy auto insurance."

The two TV spots feature a 1950s theme in which a blissful scene is suddenly shattered by an apparent tragedy. In one spot, a young couple appears to drive off a cliff, but is quickly shown to have escaped injury, thanks to Instant Auto. In the other spot, an exploding car quickly turns into a happy campfire where a young family can toast marshmallows.

Radio spots have a similar quirkiness, including one in which a clean-cut candidate for high school class president tells a female admirer that he will "need an intern" if he wins the election. The statement is quickly followed by the announcement: "Now a word from our sponsor, Instant Auto."

"It's a perfect scenario, with that little twist, just to drive the name home," Jones said.

Instant Auto currently is airing the campaign in certain markets within Texas, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico and Indiana. It plans to expand its reach into 10 new markets this year, including several regions in the Southeast and along the Eastern Seaboard. It will spend $6 million on advertising this year, Jones said.

The company also has an unusual distribution system in which it has phones placed in many Ace Check Cashing locations that link directly to the Instant Auto call center. Customers also can use those locations to transmit documents to and from Instant Auto.

"One of the things Instant has recognized is that this demographic may not have credit cards," said Jones. "In these [Ace] locations … people can sort out their policy while they are cashing their paycheck or sending money to Mexico, which is fairly common here."

Smith said Hispanics are a significant part of the customer base, and the company plans to launch a Spanish-language campaign in the near future. He said the company also is considering the possibility of conducting some direct mail, both for customer acquisition and retention.

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