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By Erik Holm
Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co. will launch its largest-ever advertising campaign during the Summer Olympics with new television spots stressing that the company, unlike some of its closest rivals, doesn't answer to shareholders.
The ads include voice-overs from A-list actress Julia Roberts and adopt a more-serious tone than Nationwide's current campaign or the advertisements of many of its competitors.
In one, a minute-long spot set to air during the NBC broadcast of the Olympics' opening ceremonies July 27, Ms. Roberts invites viewers to "join a different kind of insurance company."
"Nationwide Insurance doesn't have shareholders," she says. "So, we can protect what's most important--our members."
The new spots, part of a campaign that also will include radio, print and Internet ads, are the latest salvo in an ever-escalating advertising war among the companies that sell insurance coverage to consumers. Insurers including Allstate Corp. (ALL), Progressive Corp. (PGR) and Farmers Insurance Group are seemingly spending more every year to keep pace with the biggest spender, Geico Corp., and stay on the radar of potential customers.
Figures compiled by the data firm SNL Financial show Geico, a part of Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Inc. (BRKA, BRKB), spent about $1 billion on marketing expenses last year. Nationwide ranked seventh, according to SNL, with a marketing budget of $277.3 million.
"When you have a competitor spending over a billion dollars on ads, which we do, you have to break through the clutter in a relevant way," said Matthew Jauchius, chief marketing and strategy officer at Nationwide, in a webcast to announce the new campaign Tuesday. "We are going against the grain in the marketplace by taking a more sincere tone, an authentic tone...rather than just a yuk with a phone number, which seems to characterize our category today."
Mr. Jauchius declined to say how much Nationwide would spend on the new campaign but said it was the company's "largest campaign both in terms of cost and scope."
"This is a serious effort on our part to change the conversation" about insurance, he said.
Mutual insurance companies like Nationwide or State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co., the largest home and auto insurer in the U.S., are owned by their policyholders. Some pay dividends to policyholders.
The Nationwide ads encourage viewers to "Join the Nation," a reference to a new website the company is launching as part of the campaign. They also keep the company's longtime slogan, "Nationwide is on your side."
The new campaign was designed by Durham, N.C., advertising agency McKinney.
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