From the classics to contemporary favorites
When it comes to producing funny commercials, there are few trades that do it better than auto insurance. Over the past 20 years, the auto insurance industry has brought a cast of quirky characters, cute animals, and absurd scenarios into the homes of millions of Americans.
While it’s hard to imagine car insurance ads without their frivolous and humorous undertones, comedy wasn’t always king for the big insurance companies. Early ads, as in a lot of industries, relied on real-life scenarios, tragic events, and serious celebrity monologues. In 1999, however, everything changed when GEICO introduced one of the most iconic corporate mascots to date: the GEICO gecko, Martin.
We’ll look at how some of America’s most beloved characters came to life and helped keep millions insured over the past 20 years.
This is the kind of commercial that is so nostalgic, you may have forgotten it existed, which is fitting considering it features prehistoric people. The GEICO cavemen and line, “So easy a caveman can do it,” first appeared in 2004. The initial campaign was created by Joe Lawson and Noel Ritter, who were working at The Martin Agency at the time (hence the GEICO gecko’s name).
The “Airport” commercial has garnered over 2 million views on YouTube, making it one of the most viewed and remembered GEICO cavemen commercials. It wouldn’t be the last time a caveman was upset or patronized in a GEICO commercial, nor the last time GEICO produced a hilarious and memorable one. In fact, GEICO spends more on ads than any other car insurance company does – more than $2 billion in 20211.
The GEICO cavemen were so popular that they got their own ABC sitcom, titled Cavemen. The show aired for just over a month in 2007 and is regarded as one of the worst shows in modern television history2. Not all was bad, though. As a co-star on Cavemen, Nick Kroll, co-creator and star of Big Mouth, kicked off his now-successful career.
Allstate’s Mayhem has been terrorizing the cars, homes, and lives of Americans for over a decade. He personifies all the most distracting and destructive scenarios we can encounter on the road: fast food waiting to be eaten by distracted drivers, furry critters crossing the road, and, in this commercial, a panicking couple as Mayhem, playing the wife, goes into labor.
Mayhem is played by actor Dean Winters, who is best known for his roles in Oz and 30 Rock. The character first appeared in 2010 and was inspired by Harvey Keitel’s role in Reservoir Dogs.
Allstate isn’t kidding when it says, “Mayhem is everywhere.” Part of what makes these ads hilarious and effective is how familiar these scenarios are – well, except the part about a middle-aged man going into labor.
State Farm, perhaps more than any other insurance company, has demonstrated how to maximize the use of celebrity talent in its ads. NBA superstar Chris Paul has been a State Farm spokesperson since 2012, and he’s helped bring on a number of other teammates, coaches, and athletes to the State Farm family (Phoenix coach Monty Williams, Stephen Curry, and DeAndre Jordan, to name a few).
“Born to Assist” was Paul’s first ad for State Farm, and it is as elegantly shot and well conceived as the point guard’s seamless plays on the court. The ad shows how car insurance commercials can be funny, creative, and cinematic, all at the same time.
State Farm has received several endorsements from star athletes, including Patrick Mahomes, Aaron Rodgers, Trae Young, and, of course, Chris Paul. Although State Farm says it “respects [Rodgers’]” opinion to be against COVID-19 vaccinations, the insurance giant dropped his appearance rate from 25 percent of State Farm ads to 1.25 percent after he publicly spoke out against vaccines3.
Flo, played by Stephanie Courtney, first appeared in Progressive’s TV commercials in 2008. She’s one of the most iconic characters in advertising history and continues to be the face of Progressive to this day. With a reported net worth of $6 million4, Courtney is one of the highest-paid commercial actors in the country.
In this ad, Flo does what any reliable insurance provider would do for its customers: She sticks up for them. She makes a smooth transition from the bullying scenario to the Name Your Price Tool, demonstrating why these commercials are so loved and effective.
Car insurance ads don’t force policies and plans down viewers’ throats; instead, they leave an impact on audiences by making them laugh and appealing to their emotions. Of course, there’s never too little time to sneak in a line or two about car insurance.
Progressive understands that sentiment as well, even if Jamie doesn’t understand the difference between lactose and milk intolerance.
The “State of Unrest” was Jake’s first appearance in a State Farm ad. In the commercial, which debuted in 2011, Jake – played by real State Farm agent Jake Stone – represents everything you’d want out of an insurance agent. He’s pure-hearted, professional, and there for you in the dead of night. The commercial would start a legacy of “Jake from State Farm” commercials that continue to this day, cementing its spot on our best car insurance ads of all time.
The original “Jake from State Farm” actor, Jake Stone, worked at a State Farm call center before he started doing State Farm commercials. At the age of 26, Stone’s life turned upside when he was selected for the commercial through an internal casting call. The ad went viral, and the rest is history.
The “State of Unrest” is one of the most memed ads on the internet. It was so popular that Saturday Night Live did a State Farm/Coneheads mash-up in 2015, bringing the two worlds together in an unexpected and hilarious skit.
In 2020, State Farm parted ways with Jake Stone and made space for a new Jake, played by actor Kevin Miles. Although State Farm received some backlash for the decision, the company stood by its pick, stating that although “the original Jake did great at delivering his famous line … the expanded role is very demanding, and is best filled by a professional actor.”5
Miles received acting training from both the Chicago Academy for the Arts and Webster University, and he continues to bring the calming, positive energy of Jake to viewers.
GEICO, Progressive break trend, slash advertising expenditures in 2021. S&P Global. (2022, Apr).
The 50 worst TV shows in modern history, according to critics. Insider. (2019, Jul).
State Farm Pulled Ads Featuring Aaron Rodgers—But Says It Respects His ‘Personal Point Of View’. Forbes. (2021, Nov).
TStephanie Courtney Net Worth. celebrity Net Worth.
The Original ‘Jake From State Farm’ Guy Wasn’t an Actor. Jerry. (2022, Jun).