Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Should Erin Esurance meet her fans?

Yesterday I referenced Chris' post about how he felt Esurance wasn't using social media and networking to properly leverage the growing popularity of its character Erin Esurance. Fans of Erin are blogging about her, and even dressing up as the character that's part super-agent, part insurance-agent.

But as Chris pointed out, Esurance seems to be in no hurry to reach out to the company's evangelists and citizen-marketers:
Correct me if I’m wrong here but doesn’t the fan site show that there is a lot of interest and goodwill out there for Erin Esurance? I seems me that a little bit of work on the part of Esurance and they could solidify a very loyal fan base and become a cult classic.

This sentiment was echoed in the comments left by Kristin Brewe, Esurance’s Director of Brand & Public Relations:
Our approach is a bit different than what you would like to see for Esurance for 3 important reasons (and they’re slightly inter-related too):

1) fan commitment
2) category constraint
3) our views on corporate and social

In terms of fans, we’re generally pretty happy when people make tributes to the character we’ve created and developed. (Admittedly, there’s some weird stuff out there, but with the Internet, that would happen no matter how many friends we have on MySpace. To any marketers who think they’re in control of a brand once you’ve launched a related meme in the public sphere in the Internet age, “Forget about it.”) The countless people who submit storylines, make art, write songs, create mash-ups, dress up as Erin, and contribute their creativity are what our brand’s all about. So making sure that we inspire public creativity is our main job, in terms of the social network side of things. (And that’s in addition to other important jobs, like sales.)

Within our category, we are more constrained than other businesses as a financial services provider, even though we have pushed the boundary a bit on the standard financial services image. For example: We can’t necessarily do auto-adds on MySpace, without vetting our friends personally. (e.g., Does any company want to find out that their company was friends with someone featured on “To Catch a Predator?” Doubtful.) Personally vetting friends on an app like MySpace takes time, and as one of the comments pointed out, that’s a resource, which can be hard to come by in any environment, but particularly a high growth one. I saw some great ideas above about being an expert on insurance, and also about having Erin engage in experiential marketing. Unfortunately on the first count, giving insurance advice is tough, as the product’s regulated, with strict rules about what can and cannot be said by whom. And, if we just went the experiential route without the insurance, it might be a dialogue that was slightly inappropriate for an auto insurance company to engage in. Those would obviously both be very doable if we were in cosmetics, however.

Which brings me to point #3– the appropriate factor for corporate/social. What’s appropriate in a social setting may not be appropriate in a corporate context, and vice versa. One of the reasons people have created social networks is to escape advertisers and mass messages. Though an anti-corporate vibe permeates our culture, it is more concentrated in online communities. People want to have dialogues with the circles they define, rather than have that intruded upon. Companies relentlessly pursue consumers (a word I hate, as it’s so passive!), and they perpetually invent ways to hide from us advertisers. Rather than continuing to push, shout, and chase, perhaps we advertisers should listen to that message and back off a bit, providing people with content that they can choose to peruse and adapt and mold so that, if and when they do decide to contribute to a brand’s meaning, that’s authentic, rather than merely something we paid for (an inauthentic connection). To us, that’s a social network, in the truest meaning of both words.

First, this comment sounds more like a prepared statement. Second, it seems that Kristin is saying that 'we have people out there that are promoting us for free, so why rock the boat?'

But do a Google Blog Search for 'Erin Esurance' and see what comes up. Notice that HALF of the results on the first page (sorted by date) are reactions to Chris' post. All bloggers wanting to know why Esurance is ignoring them. And all of this happened in the last week. One blogger has managed to trump a whole lot of evangelists that Esurance is all but ignoring.

Now let's revisit the selected comments that I quoted yesterday from Kraft Senior Brand Manager Ericka Gettman, who discussed Kraft's decision to start blogging in support of a product launch:
This was/is honestly about three people who feel passionate about their product and wanted to do something different to talk about it. We're more than happy to engage in dialogue here or any other forum. For real....Anyhow, definitely appreciate all the advice and support relative to our foray into blogging. We totally agree with the notion that a blog shouldn’t be a one-time deal, rather a continuous conversation. We started our Love My Philly blog last fall and the intent is to keep on blogging with people that are just as passionate about cream cheese as we are...I’m proud that Kraft has been supportive of our various initiatives and allowed us to experiment a bit. Only a sign of good things to come!!

To me, Ericka's comments have a completely different tone than Kristin's. From reading this, I get the sense that Kraft is willing to take chances and see what is out there with social media. And I sense that this was her honest opinions pecked off in a few minutes on a laptop, not a 'prepared statement'.

But on the flipside, what could Esurance do to embrace its fans? Granted, some of the 'media' being created around Erin Esurance definitely isn't something you'd want to see/discuss around the family table. Still, Esurance can always tap into the 'fun' side of their ads and Erin. Why not encourage fans of Erin to send in pics of them dressed up as the character, so they can put them on their website? Better yet, why not have meetups for fans of Erin where they can come dressed up, or have an artist draw them alongside Erin, and while there, also get some insurance advice from pros there. Hell better still, have the people giving advice ALSO be dressed up as Erin Esurance. Why not?

The point is, Esurance's customers are having fun with the brand, why can't Esurance return the favor? Doing so is an EXCELLENT way of showing your fans that you ARE listening, which makes it more likely that you'll gain even more fans.

Saying that 'the customer is in control of the brand' is great, but you have to follow through on the words. Erin's fans are telling Esurance that they like their branding, and think it's hip and fun. Now it's up to Esurance to tell their fans that they hear them.


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Anonymous said...

Reading between the lines, I don't think Esurance wants to get involved in an endeavor that appears to cater to potentially perverse desires. Especially as it seems most of the fan base seems pretty... perverse.

Anonymous said...


I'm the voice of "Erin Esurance."
I just launched my new voice-over
(VOALAMO)website a few days ago.