2011-12-23 / Government / Neighborhood

The good guys

It’s not a criticism; It’s an observation
Mike Cox

Allstate has a new radio ad that borders on genius. The current spokesman for them, that guy with the deep, soothing voice who starred on the TV show about a shadowy paramilitary group, tells us how much Allstate cares about us, not just their customers but all of us.

To solidify that idea the insurance company is offering free lifetime membership in the Allstate roadside assistance program. Free. Roadside. Assistance. For life. My first thought was what a wonderful thing for this giant corporation to do. I figured they were unlike all those other nameless monoliths who only want to make money and don’t care who they step on to do it.

The second or third time I heard the ad, the phrase small nominal fee caught my attention. Allstate will give you the service for free and reluctantly charge a small, nominal, fee any time you actually use the service. Flat tire, out of gas, broken fuel line, whatever goes wrong they will come take care of it, but you have to pay for the visit.

It suddenly dawned on me that someone in the marketing department at Allstate is a freaking genius. All of their previous ads in the current ad campaign are designed to make us think they care about all of us as persons and will respect us in the morning. But this one is magnificent.

In reality, free roadside assistance service is pretty much what everyone offers. The local car dealer will answer your calls and dispatch a wrecker for a small minimal fee. So will Bubba and Skeeter’s garage out in Pelion. They just didn’t market themselves as such. But Allstate isn’t the only company with smart marketing guys.

Last week I stayed at a Comfort Inn in Bessemer, Alabama. On the bathroom counter they had a professionally designed placard offering all of their items for sale. Towels, sheets, coffee maker, hair dryer, everything. The message stated that their items were so popular with their customers they decided to allow anyone who wanted an ironing board or alarm clock or pillow from Comfort Inn the opportunity to purchase one. Comfort Inn mentioned at the bottom of the message that you could go to housekeeping and inquire about any item or just take it.

The folks there will assume any missing item has been purchased and will charge your credit card that amount. Although convenience is the key element of the transaction it seemed to me the prices were a tad steep.

As I lay awake listening to noise along I-20 and trying to get my head and neck comfortable on the $25 pillow, it occurred to me this might be a slick and painless way to reduce the theft of some of the items in the motel chain without appearing to do so.

We’ve all seen television commercials where either the sanity or intelligence of the creator of a particular ad was questioned. I have long assumed media ad people were slightly less intelligent than the folks who greet you at the Walmart entrance. But I suddenly have newfound respect for the great minds behind commercial marketing.

Those guys are good.

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