METLIFE HELPS YOU MAKE SENSE OF IT ALL CAMPAIGN
Between 1985 and 1995 consumers came to associate Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. (later renamed MetLife, Inc.) with its animated mascots, Charles Schulz's "Peanuts" characters and especially Charlie Brown's resourceful beagle, Snoopy. MetLife, as the company was commonly called, wanted to retain this strong brand identity while adapting to societal transformation and spreading awareness of the company's changing nature (namely the fact that it offered a full range of financial services in addition to its life-insurance products). These efforts were complicated, moreover, by a wave of insurance-industry scandals headlined by an alleged MetLife scheme to swindle consumers. The company met these substantial challenges with large-scale internal restructuring efforts, and it communicated the notion of a new and updated MetLife through an advertising campaign themed "MetLife Helps You Make Sense of It All."
Crafted by the New York agency Young & Rubicam and released in September 1995, the campaign marked a strategic shift in MetLife's branding even as it continued to employ the familiar cartoon beagle with which the company was so closely identified. Whereas previous MetLife campaigns had featured Snoopy and the other Peanuts characters in fully animated commercials, the new campaign wedded the animated Snoopy to liveaction scenarios featuring real people and backdrops. This conceptual shift was meant to suggest that MetLife was evolving with the times, a notion that was underlined by the content of the spots, each of which used Snoopy as a symbol for MetLife itself. One spot, for instance, illustrated MetLife's ability to rescue consumers from figurative financial jungles by showing Snoopy taming an actual tiger; another showed Snoopy dancing with a bride whose wedding had been financed with the proceeds of her parents' MetLife mutual fund. MetLife's typical annual media budget during the late 1990s was between $20 and $30 million.
After posting record profits in 1997, MetLife seemed to have emerged from its mid-1990s difficulties. Young & Rubicam's research indicated that consumer awareness of the brand increased during the campaign. Although MetLife continued to rely on the Peanuts characters to differentiate its brand from competitors, Snoopy ceased playing a starring role in the company's advertising when a new campaign was unveiled in 1999.
In August 1993 an investigation by the Florida Department of Insurance revealed that MetLife agents had sold life-insurance policies disguised as the Nurses Guaranteed Retirement Program, a tax-deferred retirement plan. One victim of this scheme, Sherry Horton, reluctantly bought a policy from MetLife agent Mark Moser, mainly on the strength of MetLife's good name: "After all, who hasn't heard of Metropolitan Life and Snoopy?" Horton told Money magazine's Walter L. Updegrave. More than a thousand policyholders filed claims against MetLife as a result of this investigation; at the same time, Moser filed a lawsuit against MetLife claiming that MetLife had scripted the scheme. MetLife settled these suits out of court for between $40 million and $50 million. This settlement was only the beginning of a wave of revelations of market misconduct that plagued the entire insurance industry. In light of the estimated $100 million that MetLife paid in settlements and fines, the tagline "Get Met. It pays" took on new and unwelcome meaning for the company.
In 1994 the MetLife Express program was implemented, reengineering the company by strengthening its internal structure and technological capabilities in the face of stiffer competition and industry consolidations. As part of this initiative MetLife spent several million dollars to revamp the mechanisms it used for ensuring compliance with federal and state regulations; the company established an ethics and compliance committee and expanded the role of the single compliance ombudsman to an entire compliance department that answered directly to the company's president. Creative directors at Young & Rubicam developed the new platform, "MetLife Helps You Make Sense of It All," to highlight how these changes were initiated with the consumer in mind. A stronger compliance network functioned not only to explain confusing policies to clients but also to ensure against further misconduct on the agents' or the company's part.
The market goals of the new campaign were to attract new customers and to retain current policyholders who might be tempted to seek the financial services of other companies. Both markets required the same tactic: to restore faith in MetLife's reputation through improved customer service and reinvigorated compliance with insurance regulations. Loyal MetLife customers needed to see a new face suggestive of a change in the body of the company. Because the scandal rocked the entire insurance industry, consumers could not migrate from corruption to purity. Although none of the major insurance companies had consciously conspired to deceive policy-holders, all of them shared some degree of guilt, so they all had to rebuild consumer confidence. Ironically, the lawsuits ended up adversely affecting all policyholders more than the companies themselves, as the financial performance of insurance policies suffered from the scandal. MetLife's new campaign attempted to convey the message that the company was committed to shielding its policyholders from the kind of confusion that had led to the scandal in the first place.
A MAP OF THE INTERNET—YOU CAN'T GET HERE FROM THERE
United Media, which owned the copyright for the Peanuts characters, licensed the use of Snoopy and the gang to MetLife—but only for the countries where MetLife sold financial services. This became a stumbling block when MetLife and its Internet ad agency, Agency.com, wanted to feature Snoopy and other Peanuts characters on the MetLife Online website. Because computer users in countries such as Japan and Australia (where MetLife did not do business and thus did not have licensing) could access the World Wide Web, Agency.com had to devise a way to block them from viewing copyrighted characters. United Media allowed MetLife and Agency.com to try this blockout system with a 5 percent margin of error. But according to Agency.com's Chan Suh, "We tried to find a map of the Internet and, of course, we discovered there is no such thing." The companies spent two months mapping out a system to locate computers trying to connect to their site in order to block out those from restricted areas with a 99 percent degree of accuracy. Frances Katz reported in Direct magazine the relative success of this system: "Of the 18,000 hits [to the MetLife Online website] recorded on March 5, [1996,] only 60 were rejected and only two of those were from users who should have been granted access (including this reporter)."
The three major players in the insurance industry—MetLife, Prudential, and New York Life—outperformed the rest of the industry in the late 1980s and early 1990s, a time when new sales throughout the industry were flat. MetLife generated growth at an astounding rate, with a peak sales increase in 1989 of 60.92 percent. Prudential crested that same year with a 41.84 percent gain, while New York Life peaked two years earlier, in 1987, with a 59.9 percent increase in sales. Combined, the three companies gained market share steadily in this time period, climbing from 7.32 percent in 1985 to peak at 16.46 per-cent in 1992. With the revelations of market misconduct in 1993, the three descended collectively in market share and individually in sales. By 1995 their combined market share had fallen to 11.12 percent. MetLife suffered the most individually, with sales plummeting 38.33 percent in 1994 as compared with 1993. Prudential's sales decreased 11.56 percent in 1994 and then another 22.58 percent in 1995. New York Life's sales fell 31.49 percent in 1994 but rebounded in 1995 with an increase of 36.82 percent. While the mid-1990s reversed many of the trends of the late 1980s and early 1990s, MetLife, Prudential, and New York Life competed on a level playing field—all three experienced unprecedented gains simultaneously, and all three fell from grace as dramatically.
By 1995 insurance companies had reconciled themselves to the shock of a greatly changed marketplace and were prepared to rebound by redefining their positions in that new atmosphere. In some ways the scandal helped the insurance industry by forcing them out of a comfort zone that had allowed them to fall behind the times in terms of consumers' needs and expectations.
Many of the new ad campaigns that broke in the wake of the scandal were more attuned to the contemporary advertising atmosphere that acknowledged more concrete realities. The tagline for the new ad campaign of Boston-based John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Co. exemplified this attitude perfectly: "Real Life, Real Answers." Prudential took a riskier approach, but one that even more accurately reflected consumers' attitudes: the "Be Your Own Rock" campaign acknowledged the shift from corporate dependence to self-reliance on the consumer's part while still asserting a role for the insurance company in helping consumers to discover their own best financial solutions. These two campaigns as well as MetLife's shifted emphasis from the institution to the individual in an attempt to redefine insurers' roles and recapture the imaginations of consumers.
Over the previous 10 years MetLife had created tremendous brand identity and equity through its relationship with the Peanuts characters. During that time period, especially just prior to the new campaign, American culture at large and MetLife specifically underwent major changes, so the company wanted to redefine its relationship with the Peanuts characters to reflect those changes. Artist Bill Melendez brought Charles Schultz's characters to life through animation, but their cartoon quality put them at a remove from reality. MetLife sought to introduce the characters into reality. "We decided to refresh our advertising campaign to reflect the changing world in which we live," explained MetLife chairman and CEO Harry P. Kamen. "People are overwhelmed by the growing number of financial decisions they must face every day. Placing Snoopy in a real world setting personifies our commitment to provide solutions to help consumers adapt to this changing world."
Combining animation with live action was not new technologically (after all, Dick Van Dyke had danced with animated penguins in Walt Disney's 1964 movie Mary Poppins), but it was new strategically to MetLife. The combination of live-action with animation derived its marketing strength from its power to suggest metaphorical connections: Snoopy, personifying MetLife, helped real people overcome huge obstacles, such as jungles and cliffs, which symbolized the real financial dilemmas that policyholders found themselves confronting. Young & Rubicam's chairman and CEO, Peter Georgescu, maintained that the new approach of this campaign held more relevance for consumers; MetLife president and chief operating officer Ted Athanassiades echoed this sentiment, adding that MetLife was "re-energized and refocused to be an institution which manages relationships with consumers."
DOING THINGS THAT SEEM IMPOSSIBLE
A visual-effects supervisor from Sight Effects of Venice, California, was on the sets for the shooting of the live-action sequences of the "MetLife Helps Make Sense of It All" commercials to help the director leave room in the frame for post-production animation. This advisor could help the director film in a way that anticipated the bluescreening and compositing that would happen later. This technique represented a whole new approach to commercial production: "Nowadays, agency creatives are designing their ads without having to think about the limitations of technology, and that's how it should be," said Sight Effects founder Alan Barnett. "Ultimately, you have to find ways of doing things that seem to be impossible."
The first two commercials, scripted by Young & Rubicam and directed by Eric Saarinen from Plum Productions of Santa Monica, California, debuted in September 1995 during prime-time shows such as the CBS Tuesday Night Movie, ABC's Dateline, and NBC's Wings. In the first spot, "Tiger," Snoopy rescued a man from a financial jungle by taming a real-life tiger; at the end of the commercial a voice-over announced, "What you need is MetLife … to help you make sense of it all." In "Rock Climber" Snoopy scaled a cliff to save a climber who realized in her predicament that she needed help to overcome her financial challenges; concluding this commercial, the voiceover announced that MetLife "helps you to get a grip on things and helps you make sense of it all." Both 30-second commercials, which together cost $1.5 million to produce, fused live action with animation, metaphorically suggesting that MetLife (represented by Snoopy) confronted real-life situations with real-life solutions.
After these two introductory spots Young & Rubicam followed up periodically with commercials based on similar themes and also featuring live action with animation. In mid-1996 Snoopy's ears transformed into helicopter blades as he swooped down to save canoeists from tumbling over a waterfall in "River." In "Wedding," which debuted in early 1997, Snoopy danced with a real bride at her wedding, which had been financed by her parents' mutual-funds investments with MetLife. In "Floating Man," also run in early 1997, Snoopy the lifeguard saved a retired man whose raft had deflated, suggesting that MetLife could help retirees guard against the air being let out of their retirement benefits. In early 1998 "Jargon" found Snoopy sitting in front of a television, mesmerized by a show on retirement planning and befuddled by the terminology it used; in contrast, the commercial assured viewers that MetLife explained finances in understandable language. These TV spots, along with the MetLife Online website, advertised the diversity of MetLife financial services and made the company seem accessible and helpful.
By 1997 MetLife had reversed its downward sales trend of the mid-1990s. In March 1998 MetLife announced record earnings for the 1997 fiscal year. Consolidated pre-tax earnings from operations totaled $1.7 billion, representing a 21 percent increase over 1996. Consolidated net income (after paying taxes and $1.7 billion in dividends to policyholders) amounted to $1.2 billion, up 41 percent from 1996. Both of these results broke company records. Additionally, MetLife increased the amount of assets it managed along with its affiliates, from $298 billion in 1996 to over $330 billion in 1997. Young & Rubicam's proprietary research showed that consumer awareness of MetLife advertising increased with the new campaign. All of these numbers painted a picture of a healthy financial-services company that had regained consumer confidence.
MetLife continued to evolve in the late 1990s, increasingly seeking to emphasize the full range of its financial services as it announced plans to make an initial public offering, a move that would change its status from that of a mutual insurance company to that of a stock company. MetLife's use of the Peanuts characters in its marketing evolved in concert with these institutional changes but also because the company had to guard against the risks inherent in its close association with a cartoon franchise that, no matter how effective it had been in establishing a unique brand identity, was beginning to show its age at the close of the twentieth century. Snoopy ceased playing a starring role in MetLife's advertising in 1999, appearing instead as a brand icon at the end of TV spots and in other company communications. MetLife went public in April 2000. Its subsequent marketing efforts were characterized by the ongoing attempt to craft an updated identity without sacrificing the brand equity it had accumulated through its long association with the Peanuts characters.
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William D. Baue