The parking lot on the north side of the Atlas Building in downtown Columbus is no stranger to unique billboards. The advertisement that is posted on the building now is no exception, so I wanted to take the opportunity to share it with you and get your take on it from the marketing perspective.

The Pitch

First, let’s take a look at the billboard. It’s an ad for American Family Insurance, as part of their “Do you have the {insert everyday catastrophe here} policy?” campaign (Other ads in the campaign ask questions like “Do you have the what’s that dripping noise policy?”). This particular sign asks the question, “Do you have the hail sure gets big around here policy?” What’s interesting about it — what caught my eye initially — is that they don’t just use the side of the building as their canvas … they’ve taken it a step further and used cars in the parking lot to help get their message across. Take a look at these photos to see for yourself what I mean:

(Viewing this in a reader? Check out the photos on Flickr.)

If the 3D hail attached to the side of the building doesn’t catch your attention, then the smashed cars in the parking lot surely will. It certainly made me do a double-take the first time I saw it. There’s no doubt it’s fun and creative.

But does this work? Does it resonate? Is it the best way to move the needle? Does it even help to build brand awareness (especially considering that the parking lot is positioned almost directly across the street from Nationwide’s world headquarters)?

Breaking It Down

There’s a lot going on in this ad, and I think that prevents the piece from working as well as it could. After seeing the billboard the first time, I had a hard remembering who it was promoting. Great ad … no idea what they’re selling. It’s very creative, and it ties in well to their overall campaign (which is focused on out-of-home, as far as I can tell), but I’ve seen very little to reinforce the campaign through other channels. Even the AmFam website doesn’t reinforce the overall theme of the campaign.

This is a huge miss in my opinion. Others in their industry (most notably Nationwide and State Farm) have taken the extra steps to reinforce their latest campaigns with microsites. (Here’s what Nationwide is doing … and State Farm is currently promoting at least two landing pages to reinforce their TV spots.)

Measuring Success

There’s very little to speak of in terms of a call to action on this piece. The consumer can either take action by visiting the company’s website (AmFam.com) or by calling their main toll free line (800.MY.AMFAM). Which means they can probably measure an overall increase in calls or traffic to their site, but they have no way of knowing whether it’s related to this or not. To make matters worse, the message isn’t reinforced on the homepage of the site; instead, the visitor sees AmFam’s regular messaging … my guess is that this is causing confusion that’s probably leading to an increase in their bounce rate. (Data from Compete shows American Family’s overall website traffic trending down significantly over the past year.)

If the objective is brand/image building, there’s a good chance this campaign might be helping, but I don’t see any way they can measure a direct correlation here.

A Good Start

In general, I think this billboard is extremely interesting and eye-catching, and I like the idea of the overall campaign. However, I think there’s a lot more that AmFam could be doing to give the campaign more ‘legs.’ Here are just a few things they might want to try:

  • Create a specific call to action. You’ve caught my eye … now what do you want me to do? I get that I might want to make sure my car insurance is up to date, but besides that, is there any incentive to pick up the phone and call AmFam (again, especially considering that this particular sign is located across the street from Nationwide headquarters)? The offer probably doesn’t even need to be terribly compelling — something like a free consultation or a review of my current insurance might be just enough to do the trick.
  • Give the consumer a specific place to go. Directing someone to the main number (hello, automated receptionist) or the homepage of their website doesn’t make a lot of sense here, especially considering that the website doesn’t reflect the message the consumer just saw on the billboard. Instead, provide a custom phone number, a landing page/Facebook page/microsite (GetMeThatPolicy.com, perhaps?) that reflects the campaign messaging or even better, a unique shortcode so I could text to receive a special offer while I’m standing there in the parking lot. Keep the next step consistent with what the consumer just saw. (This will help AmFam track the success of the campaign, too.)
  • Throw in a social element. “Do you have the {insert everyday catastrophe here} policy?” is a great question and potentially, a great conversation starter. I’m sure there are a lot of people out there who have really interesting stories that would tie into this campaign really well. To complement the outdoor ads, why not ask people to share their stories about crazy, “can-you-believe-what-happened-to-me” stories, and how their AmFam policy and/or local agent saved the day for them? A Facebook page, a hashtag on Twitter, YouTube Direct incorporated into a blog — any or all of these options could be an effective way to let their customers tell the story for them in testimonials, photos and videos that reinforce the idea behind the tagline.

In this case, a good tagline and creative “out-of-the-box” execution provide the foundation for a great ad, but it still might not be enough to help AmFam achieve the reach they want. Thinking through the complete strategy, looking for ways to integrate their efforts across multiple channels (ideally getting their customers involved along the way) and understanding how to measure the success of their campaign will likely produce much greater results in the long run.

Your Turn

I’ve said my peace … now it’s time for you to weigh in.

What do you think of AmFam’s billboard? What do you think of the overall campaign? How would you improve on what they’re already doing?

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