UPDATE: October 18, 2023: State Farm received 415 earned media placements from the Jake from State Farm stunt with Donna Kelce, coverage representing an estimated $23 million in ad equivalency value, according to data shared by the brand after this story’s publication. Total social media impressions topped 2.6 billion, with 92% positive or neutral sentiment toward the effort, while there was a 15 times increase in search engagement for State Farm following broadcast exposure as measured on a week-over-week basis.
NEW YORK — State Farm has been honing its media strategy to engage customers and foster loyalty with a young audience that will one day be in the market for its insurance products. The company has placed a higher priority on digital and mobile channels, including TikTok and esports, while expanding the roster of agencies it works with, last summer adding High Dive into the mix.
These moves have welcomed, and sometimes responded to, more marketing experimentation. The insurance giant just signed its first name, image and likeness deal with a college athlete, partnering with basketball prodigy Caitlin Clark. State Farm also recently capitalized on fan mania around the now-official relationship between pop star Taylor Swift and NFL player Travis Kelce, the latter of whom has appeared in ads for the marketer.
During a football game early in October, Jake from State Farm, the brand’s khaki-wearing mascot, appeared alongside Kelce’s mother, Donna, and dropped multiple references that eagle-eyed Swifties were sure to recognize. The stunt generated online chatter while boosting the performance of TV spots around NFL games.
Marketing Dive this week caught up with State Farm’s Head of Marketing Alyson Griffin, fresh off a panel discussion at Advertising Week New York. Griffin, who joined the firm two years ago, discussed how the Swift play came together, marketing to Gen Z and what else is coming down the pike in Q4.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
MARKETING DIVE: Your Advertising Week panel Monday with The Home Depot was about “conscientious consumers.” How do you define that term?
ALYSON GRIFFIN: The organizers came up with that term and it was around younger consumers who care about the purpose of a brand. People who vote with their feet, meaning they align themselves and buy from brands that meet their values.
We break our marketing into three distinct categories: Capturing current demand with whatever age or type of insurance. The second is generating future demand, which is a bit where the “conscientious consumer” comes in. These are younger folks for our business, they’re not our target to sell the product, to buy into policies. They’re in the category of generating future demand. And then the third is retention and customer loyalty.
We’re partners with Home Depot. It’s an unlikely pairing. On the surface, you wouldn’t understand why State Farm would care, but we know they know their customers very well. That whole notion of retail as a data source for brands, Home Depot is that. If we can align data, then Home Depot feels they’re offering their customers something important, which is the State Farm brand.
Does that data relationship fall under Home Depot’s retail media network?
GRIFFIN: Exactly. We are their first non-endemic partner. For an insurance brand, we think that we’re on the cutting edge from a marketing and media perspective. We’re recognizing that retail media and being smart about how we’re finding and captivating our current and potential customers.
Your media strategy has shifted in other ways. You focused on TikTok around the Super Bowl this year. Is the conscientious consumer underpinning the trend?
GRIFFIN: Yes. We are an insurance company. We understand who the audiences are and are dialing up media in places that they already are in because they’re not going to come looking for us.
That dovetails with the recent stuff you did with Donna Kelce and Jake from State Farm. Is that different from the way you’ve previously approached marketing around a property like the NFL?
GRIFFIN: That was different, yes. We already have a relationship with Travis Kelce. He's in our spots. We filmed that long before any of this happened. It was funny because Taylor Swift one day shows up and the Twitterverse and the world go bonkers.
We partnered with Ryan Reynolds and Maximum Effort. That was a lightning-in-a-bottle moment. We were able to say: Is Jake from State Farm available? Is this going to be seen by Taylor as anything inappropriate? Because Ryan has a relationship with Taylor, he talked to her and she thought it was phenomenal. That’s why it couldn’t be just any agency pitching that, but this was not planned at all.
A thing happened and, within a week, we were like, we either jump on this or we miss it, which is also not a typical insurance industry timeline. The industry is not quick. We had the right checks and balances in place and we had a relationship with Maximum Effort. We’d been talking to them for a long time but hadn’t done an actual campaign together yet. We felt safe that, while it was a bold move, we minimized the risk.
Are you looking to do more stuff like this?
GRIFFIN: We’re not trying to do stunts or force our way into conversations. We’re part of culture and Jake is part of culture. Our jingle is even part of culture. We’re going to continue doubling down on our assets, dialing them up and down in the places where our customers or potential customers are. For instance, this weekend Jake will be at TwitchCon, and two weeks from now, he will be at BravoCon. Those are wildly different audiences.
When you think about the Jake-Kelce moment, what were your metrics for success?
GRIFFIN: Earned media went crazy, as did engagement in social on X. The team was really smart because it alerted our measurement partners and said, “Something is happening. Let’s be ready to get the data.” And we did. We got it really fast.
Edo, a measurement partner, saw our search volume spike. That was a measure of, hey, this little stunt added business value. It wasn’t just earned media reach and it wasn’t just engagement on social. And then we saw something we didn’t anticipate. We had three spots in the Eagles game and three spots in the Chiefs game later that night [Ed note: Jason Kelce plays for the Eagles while Travis Kelce plays for the Chiefs. Donna Kelce attended the Eagles game that Sunday with Jake from State Farm]. The performance of the spots increased by 15 times after the stunt. Our spots perform very well normally. There was the power of the extra conversation that increased performance in general.
We were taking advantage of the moment and then stopping. You’ve got to know when to go in and you’ve got to know when it’s over. But we will continue to think about any opportunities that present themselves.
How typical is it for State Farm to use a new agency partner like that for a one-off activation?
GRIFFIN: We have expanded our universe of creative agencies to get different thinking. Honestly, we have a lot of work. Our current stable of agencies is performing well. Our football work this year is among the strongest performing we’ve had by The Marketing Arm. It’s not that we don't love TMA; we do and thrust a very visible volume of work through them. But at some point, they’re focusing on a lot, so bringing in other voices is great. We pick partners that understand being a good neighbor matters and that working with other agencies matters.
We’re still in the thick of NFL season but the holidays are coming up. What else is in the works?
GRIFFIN: We’ve already shot the first tranche [of holiday ads]. We will be focusing on our jingle in the fall. We are adding a fun twist. We’re very excited about what we’ll see and who we’ll see singing our jingle.