Oklahoma City Ad Club - Mayhem

Has there ever been a more loved bad guy than Mayhem?


You're in your car and need to change lanes. You think you're clear and you start to move over. The sound of crunching metal informs you that you're not. Cleverly concealed in your blind spot was a pickup truck. Mayhem strikes again.

Or your car is parked under a tree during a bad windstorm. Or there's too much snow piled on your roof. Or your cleaning lady falls down your stairs. As Allstate's brilliant ad campaign states, Mayhem is everywhere.

But how did an advertising campaign for an insurance company become an icon of pop culture?

I recently attended the Oklahoma City Ad Club's monthly luncheon at the Oklahoma History Center. Allstate Associate Marketing Manager Brooke Aslesen and Leo Burnett SVP/Account Director David Brot presented the Method Behind Mayhem. Together, they detailed the why and how behind Mayhem and how it helped to increase Allstate's brand recognition, market share, and bottom line.

Mayhem was a response to the massive campaigns started by Progressive and GEICO in the mid-2000s. How massive? In span of just four years, Progressive and GEICO together were outspending the entire insurance segment combined. Their ads were funny and aimed at a younger segment of the population who might be okay taking the risk of bargain insurance. Allstate and Leo Burnett decided they needed to counter without sacrificing the quality of the insurance they offer. They needed a way to communicate that in the long run, you could pay more by having shoddy insurance; that the real savings was buying from Allstate.


To get that message out, they had to fight for attention in a market filled with their competitor's ads. They needed something bold and edgy; something that illustrated the perils of cut-rate insurance in an entertaining and memorable way. And they needed to do so without shelling out the massive dollars their competitors were. So, they put out  a search through their creative networks to find a fresh take on the market.

I was surprised to learn that even a big advertising firm such as Leo Burnett would go deep into the freelance market for ideas. The genesis of Mayhem came from a small group of recently graduated BYU marketing students. It's a great lesson on keeping your eyes and ears open and not getting caught up in pedigree or experience. Great ideas can come from anywhere.

What makes the Mayhem concept a great idea? It's instantly relatable. By personifying the slip ups, mistakes, and accidents in life, the commercial connects with real life circumstances that either you or someone you know has experienced. But it's also intriguing. The moment Mayhem, actor Dean Winters, appears on screen and says "I'm a ______" we are hooked. We know something is not right with the situation and that something is about to go very wrong. The other shoe is about to drop but we don't know how it will end up. But we most definitely want to see that other shoe drop. And when it does, we laugh. And as we're laughing, Allstate is able to bring their message home:

This can happen to you and our insurance will protect you when it does.

This is Great Story Telling 101. It's why, when Mayhem flashes on screen, we get excited. We know that we are about to be entertained. And in the back of our minds, we carve out a space for Allstate as a company capable of delivering quality and value to us. And that's Marketing 101...

Not surprisingly, every aspect of the Mayhem campaign was painstakingly crafted until it was perfect. Casting took several weeks instead of the typical day or two. Ms. Aslesen pointed out almost every word in every spot is debated until the copy is right. Mayhem even has rules! He can't do things that, if a person did, would be regarded as malicious (such as an unaired ad where Mayhem is your angry-ex destroying your car).


And this brings us to another point. Allstate needed a game changer to compete in an advertising landscape radically shifted by their competitors. But they didn't panic. They didn't rush out with four different campaigns, throw them on television, and match Progressive and GEICO dollar for dollar. They carefully considered the target audience they wanted to reach and how best to communicate their message to them.

They communicated with clarity not volume. 

Effective story-telling takes time to craft. But when done right, you can cut through the wall of noise and delivery clarity and value to your target audience. They will appreciate you and your message because you will have delivered relatable material that they will value. And when it's time to make the purchasing decision, they'll think of you first.

Mayhem is a brilliant example of this. To date, Mayhem has 1.7 million Facebook likes and 56,600 followers on Twitter (since the end of September). A character from an insurance company is racing towards 2 million likes on Facebook and 100,000 followers on Twitter. Do you think it's because people love buying insurance? 

Not a chance. It's because people love great story-telling. Businesses who deploy great story-telling will reap the rewards Allstate has. Since Mayhem debuted, Allstate has seen increases in market share, brand recognition and engagement, and most importantly increased revenue.

How's that for a great story?

Patrick Kirk

No one knows the exact day Patrick Kirk was born, because he was carried into town by a pack of wild coyotes, but the end of March seems to have some consensus built around it. The townsfolk hadn’t much need for a coyote-raised wild boy seein’ as they already had a town idiot. So, they set Patrick off with the next traveling circus that rolled through town. It was there that the young boy learned of books and math and writing and other cultural offerings from Martha, the kindly old bearded lady, and her husband, Harold, the world’s tallest midget. In between shows, he would explore each new town, never having the chance to make friends with children his age, mostly because they didn’t speak coyote… However, it was on one such trek in his later teen years that Patrick happened upon a small cinema playing an engagement of Major League II. From then on, he knew that he must dedicate his life to motion pictures. The members of the circus were sad to see him go, some angry calling cinema ‘beneath them’, but Patrick took his leave and headed off to university to study the filmic arts. Over nearly half a decade of study, Patrick learned from notables such as Fritz Kiersch, director of Children of the Corn, and Gray Fredrickson, producer of the Godfather Trilogy. Patrick has worked locally in the Oklahoma City market as a grip, camera operator, and editor. He has directed a number of short films and commercial projects and aspires to do more. When not in the editing suite or on set, Patrick can be found relaxing at local sporting events or playing a round of golf. He is particularly fond of poker and has been known to frequent the local casinos. Patrick also experiments with cooking and can make a mean batch of tacos. Among things he still would like to accomplish, Patrick hopes to fly to the moon one day and get into an old fashioned pistols at dawn duel; preferably both at the same time.