You’ve probably seen the latest Farmers Insurance ads.

The company’s current ad campaign is all about revealing offbeat, unexpected claims the company has handled for people. It’s creative, it’s funny and most important, it’s memorable.

We recently interviewed Mike Linton, Chief Marketing Officer at Farmers Insurance, who shared the genesis of those incredibly creative ads and why Farmers has emphasized customer experience to capitalize on them. He also covered what has made him successful as the CMO in many major companies—including how he evaluates marketing technology.

Here are the highlights from that interview.

The Origin of the Latest Farmers Insurance Ads

The most recent Farmers ad campaign grew out of two things:

  1. The marketing team’s “smart strategy” -Mike’s desire is that every time someone touches the brand, they should get smarter about insurance.
  2. Consumer research – Mike and his team use consumer research for everything. This allows them to learn how potential clients  are using their media. 

The Challenges In Creating Farmer Insurance Ads

In talking to customers, Mike and his team discovered two main concerns:

  1. Coverage Awareness: People wondered whether they were covered for certain things.
  2. Insurance Knowledge: Even though people think they know a lot about insurance, when you press them, you find out they don’t.

The present campaign is designed to get consumers to think about their needs and their insurance coverage, then ideally to get them to talk to one of the Farmers agents.

Humor is a great way to tell the story and was chosen to address both points in an entertaining way. In fact ads that effectively use humor can create an emotional connection between a consumer and company. 

The final product looks so natural you might not realize all the hard work Mike and his team put into selecting just the right stories. Extensive tests are completed before ever releasing an ad.

These ads are a marketing team favorite because they work. It doesn’t hurt that they’re fun to make, either.

Developing Creative Ads

The ads are real claims that Farmers has settled. Mike’s team crowdsourced from within claims folks and agents at the company, asking them to send in anything offbeat.

They ended up with about 750 stories.

The point of the ads is to make consumers say, “Wow, I hadn’t thought of that” and to make them question whether their insurance is right for them, personally. Choosing the right stories was instrumental.

His two favorites? The stag pool party and the dog-diving Mer-Mutts.

Farmer Insurance Ad: Stag Pool Party

Creative Ads Are Not Just Commercials…

The Farmers commercials are obviously a big part of the company’s marketing, but Mike’s team has also done a lot of work on social.

They’ve taken much of their advertising and created awards (called the Burkies, after JK Simmons’s Professor Burke character). And they just released something called “Stranger Claims,” which documents the strangest, creepiest claims they’ve had just in time for the Halloween season.

The company takes one idea and tries to build on it across multiple platforms. They’re all enjoyable and funny, so the idea isn’t worn thin.

Three Ways Mike Drives Marketing Success in Creative Advertising

Mike worked at Proctor & Gamble, and he was the CMO at Best Buy and eBay prior to joining Farmer’s Insurance.  

Those are very different markets, so we asked him: “How have you been able to adapt to the challenges you’ve faced with each company?”

They are different companies, but Mike says at the core they have a major similarity: they are selling to a consumer. Additionally when he joins a company, he considers three factors for success:

  • Consumer Map & Data: The first thing he always looks for is the consumer map and the data that drives the marketing. He attaches that to the financials of the company and how it operates.
  • Company Culture: The second thing is that he always tries to respect the culture he’s joining. “That culture has got the company to where it is,” he said.
  • Champion the Brand: The third thing is that marketing’s job is to drive the right demand for the company and to champion the brand and the customer in a way that the company gets better. He tries to connect anything in marketing to the business and its financials, particularly through market data and consumer stories in a way that everyone can understand.

The Importance of Marketing Technology in Advertising

Mike thinks about marketing and technology as a critical element of his strategy. He explains “You really need to find the right way to use technology for your brand and your customer.”

The cool thing is, usually the technology and the customer are meeting at the brand before they meet anywhere else. The front end of the technology is usually the front end of your marketing.

The key things for Mike are, “What does your consumer expect?” and “What does your brand need?” Not every brand can use every technology in the same way. Your job as a marketer is to figure out the answers to the above questions.

“Have a good belief in what will work,” Mike said. “Test as fast as you can, kill the tests that don’t work, and move on to the next test.”

There’s an important thing to note here, though. You can’t test as fast as possible without an exceptional relationship with your IT department.

Without Customer Experience, Marketing Is a Waste of Time

At Farmers, they are continually working to improve the customer experience. In fact, they care so much about it; they have it in their compensation plan.

This compensation plan is designed to emphasize that managers (and everyone else) are in it for the customer. More companies are doing this today than ever, and for a good reason. In the end, marketing can get the customer to the brand, but the repeat purchase is driven largely by the experience that the consumer gets with the brand.

The latest step Farmers has taken in a new customer experience initiative is to hire a Customer Experience Officer. Her job is to look at customer experiences that cut across functions, such as renewals, and to improve them.

Marketing can set an expectation, but customer experience delivers on that expectation. They’ve put the customer experience role in marketing because it is highly tied to the data, the brand promise, and the overall customer satisfaction.

As Mike said, “Customer experience is an extension of your brand . . . a statement of who you are.”