Insurance doesn’t come in a box. That’s just ridiculous! A policy is written down on a few sheets of paper, but there’s no need for a box. I mean, it’s not a product … Or is it!?
According to a few new ads from Progressive, insurance is not only a product, but it’s sold in stores! Check out the ads from the Progressive website »
Now I don’t mind ads creating metaphors (like this series of Propane ads), in fact I rather enjoy it, but in this case it’s reflective of a greater sentiment that I find troubling: services as products.
Some people view a “brand” as the commodotised and sellable essence of a company, product, or service. The logic being that people are more used to buying tangible, feelable things as opposed to vague services and policies. But why does everyone want to sell a product? Travel agents, banks, and insurers — the ultimate service-providers — will often speak about their ‘products’ and ‘packages’ and the benefits thereof. They’ve since stopped referring to their customers as travellers, account- or policy-holders, but instead call them all ‘consumers’. Why the shift from services to products? What’s so great about selling everything as a consumer brand.
I’m a big defender of the word Brand itself. People often say “brand” when they mean company, label, make, model, product, service, or line. But why are so afraid of our specific sector? Be specific, and cherish your role! If you sell a product, make a better product. If you provide a service, provide it with fewer headaches.
The trouble starts when the product or service gets folded into the ‘experience’. I’ve remarked before about experience branding at places like Starbucks and CVS (to cover both ends of the spectrum), both of which are at their most basic level, the seller of products. Travel is a service, but flying on Virgin Atlantic vs. Continental are certainly different experiences. The experience of dealing with banks, especially with more involved services like loans and mortgages can be a hellish or divine experience. And with any luck, you’ll never have to endure the experience of filing an insurance claim.
The advertisements for Progressive touch on the experience rather than the service. In their “checkout” ad, (pictured above), they are selling the experience of ease; getting a policy is as easy as checking out from a store. Other insurance ads talk about the calming and soothing experience of filing a claim following a disaster and there are tons of ads during daytime tv for life insurance agencies that try to show themselves as helping and nurturing to you and your loved ones. But at their core, insurance companies provide a service.
This is an ongoing issue, so I’m afraid I don’t have a rock-solid conclusion or call-to-action. Just keep your eyes open and observe where the lines of product, service, and experience are being blurred, bent, and crossed. Look out for metaphors that work, and others that turn into pandering. Lookout for things in boxes.