“Call Jason” – Insurance companies making an art of comic commercials

Does comedy sell?  And if it doesn’t quite cut the comedy mustard, is it a case of “any publicity is good publicity”?  While I don’t watch TV for the commercials (although actually being paid to be in one is a totally different matter and always welcome), there are currently a couple of ads on Australian TV that make me smile.  And it has nothing to do with my actually knowing the lead actors in both ads.  Well, not really.  Well, okay, it probably does 😉 .

The first one is the “Call Jason” ad for RACV Insurance.  Anyone who lives in Melbourne (VIC, Australia) will have seen “Jason” grinning at them from over-sized billboards all over town (see screen shot below).  Yes, he’s the one who takes the mick out of his fellow co-workers about how much money they’ve saved various RACV customers on their insurance.

Nathan Strauss as Jason on the current RACV commercial
Nathan Strauss as “Jason” on the current RACV commercial

Love it or hate it, it seems to be doing the trick promotion-wise.  Which is the whole point, obviously.  I think it’s funny, but then, I’m biased because, yes, I do know the lead actor and appreciate the work all the actors are doing in that commercial (I also know Jessie Wei who also appears in the ad and “saved a bloke in Sale $147 dollars”). As for the lead character – “Jason”?  That would be the one and only Nathan Strauss, a good friend of mine and talented actor who will soon be seen in the film “Why Must The Show Go On?” (which I co-wrote and executive produced) as the earnest and naive “Scott” later this year (more on that once post-production is finished).

If you have no idea what ad I’m referring to and want to see it in it’s entirety, go here and click on “insurance commercial december 2008”.

The other ad is, funnily enough, also for an insurance company – CGU.  It’s the “Bill the Alpaca Farmer” ad and it’s hilarious.  It seems that YouTube viewers feel the same way – it’s got over 40,000 views since being uploaded in March and received universally positive comment.  And in a recent bizarre twist, fans of the ad have banded together to create a Facebook Fan Group called “Bill the Alpaca Farmer from the CGU ads” (currently at 279 members). And yes, again, I know the actor – that’s the fabulous Don Bridges who is a fixture in the Australian acting community and someone I have enormous respect for (and even more so now that I’ve heard him rap about Alpacas!)

Here’s the ad for those who might have missed it (although it will continue to air on TV until June):

Hahaha!  I love it!

It is interesting that both these ads are aiming for comedy, but when I ran a quick poll amongst my colleagues – everyone could say that “Jason the Call Center Guy” was an ad for the RACV, whether they laughed at it or not (the product and the ad were very much linked), but “Bill The Alpaca Farmer”, despite a universal love for it, caused them to stop and think for a moment before they could name the company the ad was for.  In some cases, they couldn’t remember at all.

Which brings up the question about clever/funny advertising – after all, advertising is supposed to promote a product, and if you love the ad, but can’t remember the product, does that not somewhat defeat the purpose of making the ad?

In years past, I would have said that was the case, but with the advent of the Internet and, in particular, YouTube, that seems to not be such an issue.  Case in point here – “Bill the Alpaca Farmer” has been posted to YouTube about six seperate times (from my quick count) and totalled over 40,000 views.  Add to that a Facebook Fan Group (that actually mentions the company name, along with the character from the ad) and he’s starting to become a bit of a cult celebrity and promoting the company to a much wider audience.  While that may be small change in TV advertising terms, if the videos go truly viral, they could reach sections of the community that may not have seen it on TV – and the company logo is predominantly shown at the end of the ad, along with the slogan – which means the brand will eventually be linked to the ad, even if its just subconsciously, by a much wider audience.  It’s truly clever advertising these days to make copies of ads available for places such as YouTube – because if the audiences there like it, or even hate it, they’ll do the work for you by reposting the video and sending it viral.

Food for thought.

As for me?  Well, I also have a TV commercial coming up – not for an insurance company, but it could be classified as humourous – the team who worked on it also consulted for one of the “Wallace & Grommit” films – so yes, there would be clay animation with live action involved.  Can’t say any more now, however … you’ll just have to keep your eye on the TV and resist that natural urge to channel surf during the ad breaks … 🙂

8 thoughts on ““Call Jason” – Insurance companies making an art of comic commercials

  1. You’re ridiculous. The old addage that if you “talk about the ad then it’s successful” is utter crap. There is no tangible evidence for that cliche. The RACV ad is not clever, it’s perverse. The premise is implausible. The external characters are dripping with contrived nerdiness – as if a single person likes working in a call centre!

    1. we actually had a discussion about this very ad campaign a little while ago, and NO ONE could remember what insurance company it was (except me).
      The fact is it does not work – there is no brand recognition – a failure in all respects.

  2. Hi Matthew,

    I actually didn’t say that the RACV commercial was successful in creating a positive association with the company as such – more that it had generally upped brand awareness for RACV, and the basic message – “we’ll actively save you money if you sign up with us” (everyone I’d spoken to in my informal poll got that message – despite how they felt about the ad).

    As to how they portray that message? Well, commercials aren’t really a representation of real life – otherwise we’d all be thin and drop-dead gorgeous if we used all the cosmetic/beauty products advertised (like the models selling them), able to skateboard down streets on a dumpster or launch home made hot air balloons (or any other hair brained, adrenaline driven stunt) without getting arrested if we drank certain soft drinks and attract any guy or gal we liked if we drank a certain kind of beer or wore a particular perfume or deodorant or ate a certain chocolate bar. So your point about people being happy working in a call center? Oh, I totally agree – I’ve worked in one and lasted about two weeks – no, not fun at all. But it’s an ad – it’s not reality.

    On a side note – by commenting, you have proven my point about “any publicity is good publicity” – the ad obviously had an impact on you – or you wouldn’t have bothered saying anything about it here. I’m not saying anything either way about it as to whether it’s “good” or “bad” – I don’t get worked up over advertising generally, but I did find it interesting to compare two insurance ads that are going for comedy and, in a very casual way, seeing what people thought about them and if they were doing their job – ie. promoting the brand. Your comment is most welcome and adds a different point of view to the debate, for which I thank you.


  3. Yes, fair enough. You make some good points about the essence of advertising is not reflecting reality. But in the same sense I’m not sure you could classify the RACV ad under “comedy” like you can with the CGU ads. Sure, both are absurd, but the key difference is that RACV is not overtly playing up the comedy. There is a representation of some core reality to call centre’s in that ad..the geeky, slightly uncool aspect that is supposed to make us think that “gee, these people really do like saving us money”. By calling Jason we are jettisoned or in some way imbibed into their culture, we are linked to something which is usually “just a voice at the other end of the phone”. RACV want us to think it is not just about insurance, but a person-to-person experience. You have to remember that large insurance companies are in the business of NOT paying out on policies. They couldn’t give a flying f*ck about its customers. That’s probably off the point a little, I apologise. In the end, it is just an ad, but in the end I’d also never buy insurance from RACV because of Jason. As for CGU and Suzan the “Profit Whore”…well don’t get me started! Thanks for your reply, sorry if I was a bit zealous with my opening post! Cheers, Matt

  4. I would have thought both ads have a great deal of ‘memorability’ about them in terms of brand recognition. Who could forget the catchy hook of “whoever you are, whatever you do” that identifies CGU?

    As an aside, the RACV ad features an interesting moment – one of the ladies behind the cubicle has her mouth strategically covered when she talks. That has always intrigued me.

  5. I have to say it was Nathan’s big, bushy eyebrows that made me remember the commercial the most. Personally, I can’t remember the last time I saw eyebrows that big and thick on TV before! I have to say it was quite a change from the usual trimmed and primmed actors one see’s on television these days!

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