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EDITOR’S NOTES: Who’s Our Character?

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Jason Stahl has 28 years of experience as an editor, and has been editor of BodyShop Business for the past 16 years. He currently is a gold pin member of the Collision Industry Conference. Jason, who hails from Cleveland, Ohio, earned a bachelor of arts degree in English from John Carroll University and started his career in journalism at a weekly newspaper, doing everything from delivering newspapers to selling advertising space to writing articles.

She’s perky and cute and has hot pink hair. She’s nimble and acrobatic as a secret agent uncovering auto insurance discounts. And even though she’s not real, rumor has it she’s charmed hundreds of young men into proposing marriage to her.

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That’s right, I’m talking about Erin Esurance, the animated pitchwoman for, you guessed it, Esurance. I quote one young man who posted his love for Erin online:

“I know she’s just a cartoon, and I actually find many Esurance commercials to be annoying. But, let’s face it, Erin is hot!!! With that hot pink hair and athletic physique, what’s not to love?”

While on the subject of insurance pitchwomen who’ve developed cult followings, we can’t forget Flo the Progressive Insurance Girl, “that babelicious brunette with her ‘tricked-out name tag’ and her ’60s-style eye makeup and her kissable red, red lips,” according to an article in the Houston Press called, “The Cult of the Progressive Car Insurance Chick.” Talk about a way to distract people’s attention from the fact that, if they use Progressive’s concierge level of claims services, the insurer makes their repair decisions for them – scary.

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And now we move on to less sexy but nonetheless memorable characters: the GEICO gecko and GEICO cavemen. The cavemen were so popular that, in 2007, they got their own sitcom on ABC. Even though the ratings were abysmal and the show was quietly canceled, the cavemen still live on. I know because I saw one of them on an aerial banner driving home from work one day and thought I
was hallucinating.

It escapes me why the gecko is so popular. I guess he’s kind of cute, but more appealing is his funny Cockney accent. Lately he’s taken to wearing glasses and boasting about GEICO’s history and attachment to Warren Buffett (Berkshire Hathaway owns GEICO).

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So you might be asking yourself why I’ve decided to devote an entire column to essentially promoting the very companies that you do battle with every day. Well, let me explain. All these popular characters who help insurance companies sell billions of dollars of auto insurance policies got me thinking: Who’s our character? What animated or non-animated character represents the collision repair industry and boosts our business?

There is none.

We all know why, of course. We don’t have the money to match insurers at their own game. GEICO alone spends about $800 million a year on advertising. Even if shops banded together and contributed $1 million to a national advertising campaign, that would buy only 10 seconds during the Super Bowl (based on last year’s rate of $3 million for 30 seconds). And one big bang isn’t enough. One of the keys to effective advertising is repetition, which is a big part of why we can’t get Erin Esurance, Flo, the gecko and the cavemen out of our heads.

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Okay, so we can’t spend like insurers and get our commercials on the air 24/7. But all it takes is a little creativity to come up with a character like one of theirs who employs charm and humor to endear himself or herself to the consumer and make the consumer feel better about the body shop he or she chooses.

Here’s what I suggest: If you’re doing local advertising, why don’t you come up with your own character that people will like and then associate your shop with every time they see it? Imagine an animated superhero named Curt Collision saving a customer from the clutches of the insurance monster, saying, “Don’t worry, you don’t have to take your car where they want you to! You’re free to choose your own repair facility.” Or maybe Cassie Collision, a beautiful counterpart to Erin Esurance who might develop her own legion of lovelorn devotees.

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The closest I’ve come to seeing creative, out-of-the-box collision commercials is the ones created by Chuck Jessen and PreFab Ads. Check out the squashed gecko with the tire treads on it on pg. 80. That’s an image not soon to be forgotten.

If someone had been thinking hard enough, that googly-eyed pile of money that’s the new star of GEICO commercials could have been not the “money you could save by switching to GEICO” but the “money GEICO shorted you on your repair.”                                     

Jason Stahl, Editor
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