How Allstate's Mayhem brought carnage and humor to insurance marketing

Running since 2010, Allstate's Mayhem commercials have been as memorable for their carnage and humor in a serious category.

Commercials for insurance companies have often taken a serious tone, and for good reason: If your car gets totaled or your home catches fire, you need to know that the company that has your back is one that can be taken seriously.

Allstate flipped that approach on its head with the introduction of Mayhem in 2010 — so effectively that the campaign featuring him is still going strong. Leo Burnett pitched an idea for a Reservoir Dogs doppelganger (he was known as 'Mr Mayhem' in the client sessions), and soon television screens were introduced to the bruised-up man in black and the damage he wreaks.

The ads made an instant impact, with the voice of Dean Winters giving a play-by-play into those car-altering moments: a key scratching a car, a deer jumping into the street, a distracted daughter shunting her car's bumper into the rear of a parked vehicle. His physical comedy and deadpan delivery was a vast departure from the calm baritone of Allstate’s mainstay 'Good Hands' campaign starring Dennis Haysbert, but one effective enough to have staying power.

What helped make Mayhem last for almost a decade (even as the brand puts more focus on its 'Good Hands' spots) is how the copy enabled the spokesperson to weave between narrator and instigator. This GPS spot, for example, positions him right next to the driver, but with an eye warily on us halfway telling a story of the faulty car equipment, and lazily misdirecting his driver until an eventual crash.

Most of the initial commercials focused on Allstate’s auto insurance, but Mayhem found a way to make home life just as messy.

The insurance field had become crowded enough with Geico’s seemingly endless campaigns and State Farm’s ‘assists’ from NBA player Chris Paul (and bespectacled cousin Cliff). Despite the clutter, Mayhem's shock value has ensured that the campaign continues to stand out. Plus, the ad world’s harbinger of doom actually gives specific scenarios for why a driver or homeowner would need insurance — followed by a reference to provider who can help handle life’s mayhems like him.

What’s your pick for the best long-running campaign of all-time? Ahead of the annual The Drum Advertising Awards, The Drum has joined forces with leading industry legends and The Financial Times to recognize some of the most enduring campaigns of all-time.

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